England's national lockdown is set to run on until at least March. Speaking in the Commons chamber this afternoon, Boris Johnson confirmed that the return of pupils to the classroom would be the first thing to be eased – and this would not happen in February as he had previously hoped. Addressing the House, Johnson said 'it will not be possible' to reopen schools in England after the half-term break next month. However, he remained hopeful that so long as the UK's vaccination programme remained on track, the return of pupils to the classroom would be able to begin from Monday 8 March.
Given that No. 10 have no plans to relax any restrictions prior to schools reopening, this means the lockdown is here for the foreseeable. However, Johnson attempted to give both his MPs and the public some hope by saying that work on a roadmap out of lockdown was now underway. He said his government would reveal its 'phased' route out of lockdown in the week beginning February 22nd. Guiding this work will be the research underway in government on whether vaccines block transmission of the virus.
Today's announcement will come as little surprise to teachers. Many schools had been working on the assumption the mid-February proposal would be missed. Johnson was keen to talk up plans for catch-up education in a bid to make up the damage done from schools remaining closed.
A sign of the long road ahead in terms of returning to some form of normality could be found in the tone of Johnson's replies to questions from his party. As well as being careful to say that 8 March could see the start of a phased return of pupils to the classroom (rather than the return of all years), he sought to play down the idea that things would change drastically in March.
When one MP thanked Johnson for his burst of optimism, the Prime Minister responded by emphasising how caution would define the government's response in easing the lockdown. Johnson made clear that he was determined to move slowly so as to decrease the chances of having to bring in tighter measures in the future.