ALL primary and secondary schools are set to stay shut for at least a month under a new national lockdown.
Boris Johnson is due to announce tougher new national restrictions in an address to the nation tonight, with classrooms expected to shut until mid-February half term.
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Millions of parents today faced chaos and confusion as primary schools across the country stayed shut in defiance of Government orders.
The PM had yesterday urged parents to send kids back to school as he has “no doubt” they are safe.
But Mr Johnson is tonight due to unveil severe new Covid restrictions across England, including school closures, with Downing Street admitting the spread of the virus is “rapidly escalating”, the Financial Times reports.
A similar arrangement is expected to the first lockdown in March where provisions were made for the children of key workers.
It comes as Labour leader Keir Starmer demanded all schools shut as part of a new national shutdown in "the spirit of March" with the virus raging "out of control".
He said: "The more we delay, the worse it will get. The longer we delay, the longer schools will be closed for.
"I’m afraid the closure of schools is now inevitable and therefore that needs to be part of… the national plan for further restrictions."
Britain's biggest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), today said teachers in 6,000 primary schools told them it's unsafe to go to work.
Council leaders in Wolverhampton, Norfolk, Slough, Manchester, County Durham, Lancashire, Birmingham and Gateshead said they would support head teachers who do not think it is safe for the school to open.
And schools in Surrey, Gloucestershire, Newcastle, Norfolk, Liverpool, County Durham, West Sussex, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Lancashire all sent last-minute letters advising parents of closures.
One letter to parents from Anlaby school in Hull, read: "When we have made arrangements we will let you know exactly what is happening as soon as we can.
"It may be wise to start thinking about alternative arrangements for child care and how your children will engage in online learning if we have to close."
Britain today saw its highest ever daily cases at 58,784, as new infections pass the 50,000 mark for the seventh day in a row.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England (PHE), said today's figures were a "bitter warning".
She said: "The continuous rise in cases and deaths should be a bitter warning for us all.
"We must not forget the basics – the lives of our friends and family depend on it."
The changes from schools mean thousands will be plunged into difficulty this week as parents scramble to find last minute childcare.
Others will be forced to home-school their kids as teachers send digital materials home.
One East Yorkshire mum, who did not wish to be named, said she finds it "staggering" that her child's school will not be opening.
She told Hull live: "I find it staggering how the school is choosing not to take government advice.
"I take my advice from the government scientists who are saying it’s safe for children to return to school and so should the school."
Another parent who asked to remain anonymous said she would not be sending her kids to school due to safety fears.
"We have all managed to avoid catching Covid so far, but with this new strain, I don't think it's safe at all," she said.
"How can schools be safe if the Houses of Parliament are not safe?"
Education unions have said staff are at "serious risk" of infection by returning to schools and called on the Prime Minister to meet to discuss safety.
In a joint statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite, they said the Government's "chaotic handling" of the opening of schools "has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike".
It insisted a return of all pupils to classrooms while infection rates are high poses a "serious risk" to staff and "could fuel the pandemic".
The statement added: "Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed."
But this morning Mr Johnson said "the risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else" adding that the reasons for wanting to keep schools open "are very, very powerful".
It's very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it's so important for young people to get an education.
He said: "It's very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it's so important for young people to get an education.
"That's why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That's why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
"I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small."
Echoing the PM's message, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is "clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population," urging people to follow public health advice.
He told Sky News: "There is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people's long-term health."
All of London's primary schools and those in some surrounding areas have been told not reopen until January 18 due to the fast-spreading variant of Covid-19, with students elsewhere expected to return to classrooms on Monday.
But councils in Cumbria and Kent have urged the Government to allow schools to remain closed in other areas.
General secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Dr Mary Bousted has said schools should stay closed for two weeks to "break the chain" of transmission and prevent the NHS becoming "overwhelmed".
And former health secretary Jeremy Hunt this afternoon called for the closure of schools "right away" as he warned the pressures facing hospitals are "off-the-scale worse" than previous winter crises.
Meanwhile, parents have been left in the lurch, with one parent tweeting: “In South Lincolnshire we had an email about 5pm advising us that my daughter’s primary school is closed, except reception and year three. Randomly.
"Apparently the teachers are following union advice and not the government advice. It’s all chaos and such short notice!”
Another wrote: “Had a message from Earlsdon primary school at 16.30 today saying school will be closed on Monday due to staff shortages.
"Don’t blame them at all. But short notice should have been avoided by proper leadership by the Government.”
One dad added: "Understand why but god talk about late notice and left with no time to sort out any childcare.”
Primary school pupils in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe were expected to return on Monday while the other districts in Kent will learn remotely for the first two weeks of term.
Brighton and Hove City Council advised primary schools in the Tier 4 area not to return in person, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers, until January 18.
In Doncaster, director of public health Rupert Suckling wrote to parents saying all primary and special schools in the area would close on Monday for a "Covid planning day", to allow headteachers to take stock and plan.
But in Sheffield, director of public health Greg Fell wrote to all primary and special schools yesterday to advise them to reopen as usual.
Essex County Council said it was seeking "urgent clarity" from the Government on the position of reopening schools in north Essex amid rising infection rates.
It said that primary schools in Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford – the only districts in Essex where schools were due to reopen – would move to remote learning from Tuesday.
Amid the chaos, Stuart Guest, head of Colebourne Primary School in Birmingham, tweeted yesterday: "Watching Twitter tonight is like a snow day on speed! Carnage and completely unnecessary stress for school leaders, staff, pupils and families."
And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said it was "very hard to tell" how many schools would be open for the start of the term.
"Some schools in Tier 4 areas will be open for vulnerable pupils and key worker families and will be providing remote learning for others, yet in other areas also in Tier 4, all pupils will be admitted," he said.
"That's a confusing picture for school leaders and families alike."
Reduced staffing numbers and the safety of vulnerable students are also said to be causing "confusion and stress" among school staff, with teachers voicing concerns over balancing support for pupils and the risk to their own health.
Teachers at Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire said they are "in limbo", as they remain unsure if the Government will close schools to all pupils except the children of key workers.
Newly qualified teacher Jess Simpkin said she comes into contact with 90 different families every day in her "bubble".
And Head teacher Bryony Baynes refuted claims that the risk to teachers was "no greater," adding: "We get sneezed on, coughed on, dribbled on, sicked on, snot wiped on us," she said.
"We have that on a daily basis – in a secondary school or further education, you can maintain that 2m distance because those children understand. But four, five, seven-year-olds? They don't get it."
It comes after Boris Johnson yesterday urged parents to send kids back to school.
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, the PM told parents: “Look at where your area is. Overwhelmingly you’ll be in a part of the country where primary schools tomorrow will be open.”
He added: “I understand people’s frustrations. I understand people’s anxieties. But there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.”
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