EDUCATION experts in Oxfordshire have derided the decision to keep secondary schools closed for an extra two weeks.

Yesterday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that secondary schools across most of England would remain closed for an extra two weeks due to rising cases of Covid-19.

Secondary schools and colleges should only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers and exam students to attend.

Remaining students are expected to go back on January 11.

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Primary schools will return as planned on Monday – aside from those in some London boroughs and areas of the South East. Oxfordshire pupils will return as normal.

Mr Williamson’s announcement, designed to allow time for mass testing plans in secondary schools and colleges, has been met with scepticism in Oxfordshire.

Lucy Coleman, a primary school teacher and assistant secretary for the Oxfordshire branch of the National Education Union (NEU) said: “We’ve been discussing it locally and we’re all in agreement the response is confusing and will fail to protect our communities.

“It’s become increasingly clear that primary school pupils are one of the highest groups with Covid cases, which is concerning as a primary school teacher.

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“Schools have not been given time or resources for this mass testing, hence why secondaries are having to stay closed.

“We’re confused that online teaching is only for secondaries in Oxfordshire – we know teachers will be travelling in from areas such as Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire where primary schools are closed.

“I really feel for headteachers who have been given a mish mash of information and no clear advice for what Tier 4 means.

“The sudden closure of schools is hard for students to deal with, especially children with SEND.”

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The military is set to give remote support to secondary schools and colleges in England setting up mass Covid testing.

Meanwhile, Gill Sanders, an Oxfordshire county councillor who sits on the council’s education scrutiny committee, highlighted the impact on children with poorer access to remote learning.

She said: “I recognise the problems we’re facing and lots of youngsters are becoming infected but I feel it’s so important to get youngsters back in school as soon as we can.

“We say that young people can access education at home but some of them are losing out and that worries me – some that live in households with no internet or broadband are missing out.

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“I can even see the two weeks being extended – I desperately hope it won’t be but we cannot foresee what will happen. Difficult and tough decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks.

“Governors and trusts are having to make last minute decisions, and I think the Government should be listening to professionals and be better prepared for this situation, this could’ve been foreseen a few weeks ago.”

John Howson, deputy chairman of the committee, added the decision was ‘another example of too little too late – a theme throughout the pandemic’.

In a letter to parents and carers, Heather Pallier, acting headteacher at St Gregory the Great Catholic School in Cowley, said: “We are positive about the potential for the mass testing of pupils and staff in schools, as a way of reducing the spread of the virus and enabling fewer pupils and staff to have to self-isolate.”

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “In the face of a rapidly changing situation, I am determined to act to preserve lives and the NHS, as we continue to protect education and put children first.

“We are making changes to the start of term to give more time for the rollout of our first-of-its-kind rapid testing programme to identify students who have the virus but don’t display any symptoms.

“On top of the existing protective measures in place, this will help keep education settings as safe as possible for all students.”

For university students, most will return from the two-week period beginning January 25.