"We have been adamant that educating children has been an absolute priority and keeping schools open has been paramount".
Schools in all the United Kingdom nations are remaining open for vulnerable children.
Accordingly, we will be opening the majority of primary schools, as planned, on Monday 4th January.
Primary school children will have to stay at home in 22 London boroughs, as well as in parts of Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and East Sussex, unless they are considered vulnerable or are the children of key workers. "But we must face the reality that the sheer pace of the spread of this new variant requires us not to take even tougher action in some areas, and that does affect schools".
DUP: Its Education Minister Peter Weir said schools would reopen in first week of January but Executive would keep decision under review.
It's because the infection rate is higher among older pupils and the delay to schools reopening will give the government more time to ensure it can properly roll out testing for pupils and staff.
The first starter packs of up to 1,000 test kits are scheduled to arrive at all secondary schools and colleges on January 4.
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This kind of mass testing will help protect not just children and young people, it will benefit everyone in the community because it will break the chains of transmission that are making infection rates shoot up.
Mr Williamson clarified that during the first week of term after January 4, secondary schools and colleges will prepare to test as many staff and students as possible and will only be open to vulnerable and key worker children.
The military will provide virtual training to help with testing, he added.
Changes to arrangements for the new term in January are expected following discussions between the Departments of Health and Education.
The education secretary said all pupils in exam years will return during the week beginning 11 January, with the majority coming back to school in the following week.
Eleven districts across the county have been included in a nationwide list of areas with coronavirus infection rates too high to reopen primary schools.
It is also understood that pupils in non-exam years in post-primary schools could move to remote learning for a period from the start of term rather than 25 January. This is in addition to the 560,000 devices we have already delivered as we continue aiming for a target of a total of one million devices to be distributed for children who need them the most.