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UK education secretary Gavin Williamson says return of pupils to schools in England will be done on a "cautious, phased" basis

By Gregor White

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Gavin Williamson said he knows some parents and school staff are "very anxious" about reopening schools, but said it was in the best interests of children that they are able to get back to school.

At today's Downing Street briefing he said: "There are some who would like to delay the wider opening of schools but there is a consequence to this.

"The longer that schools are closed the more children miss out. Teachers know this.

"Teachers know that there are children out there that have not spoken or played with another child of their own age for two months.

"They know there are children from difficult or very unhappy homes for whom school is the happiest moment in their week and it's also the safest place for them to be."

He stressed that the government's plan for the phased return of schools was based on scientific advice and added: "We recognise how important schools are and the role they play in every child's life, and it is understandable then, when you are given advice that there is an opportunity to start opening schools – in a very controlled, careful and safe way – because of the enormous benefits that delivers that you would want to do that."

Already this week communities secretary Robert Jenrick and health secretary Matt Hancock have dodged questions during the Downing Street briefing about whether teachers could be disciplined if they refuse to go back to work from early June.

Mr Williamson also avoided the question today.

Asked about the possibility of disciplinary action or newly graduated teachers being drafted in to fill gaps in classrooms he said: "We are working with all teaching representatives right across the sector to give people the confidence of returning to school, and teachers understand there is no substitute for children to being taught by them."

The Scottish Government has already ruled out a return to school for pupils north of the border before the summer break.

A total of 136,486 tests for coronavirus were carried out across the UK yesterday.

The number of people who have tested positive now stands at 240,161, an increase of 450 since yesterday.

There are 10,484 people in hospital with coronavirus – down from 11,872 at the same time last week.

The total number of people who have now died of Covid-19 in the UK stands at 34,466. That is up 468 from yesterday.

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