Following the latest announcement by the Department for Education (DfE), secondary schools and colleges across Essex will be included in a country-wide move to remote learning until 18 January 2021.
This is to allow time for the roll-out of a mass testing programme across the country. Primary schools in the hardest-hit areas of Essex (listed below) will also face a staggered return.
All settings will remain open for face to face teaching for vulnerable children and those of critical workers from 4 January. Exam-year pupils primarily in Years 11 and 13 are set to return to school the following week on 11 January .
In response to significantly rising cases across Essex and growing demands on hospitals and health and social care services, particularly Mid, South and West Essex due to coronavirus, primary schools in the districts most acutely affected will also be facing a delayed return to face-to-face learning of two weeks until 18 January.
These districts are: Brentwood, Basildon, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Harlow, Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Southend on Sea, and Thurrock. Primary schools in Uttlesford, Colchester and Tendring will return as normal on 4 January.
Essex County Council has written to Essex schools, confirming arrangements from January. The decision will be reviewed by DfE by 18 January. Infection rates will continue to be monitored throughout January and any further updates will be clearly communicated with parents and carers going forward.
Details on the mass testing roll-out in schools and colleges are awaited from DfE, but in the meantime parents whose children are eligible to return on the 4 January in very high risk areas, are encouraged to access a PCR test from the Government website as their main testing route.
Lateral flow testing centres are also open in Brentwood, Pitsea and Basildon, with more centres planned for opening across the county throughout January.
Cllr Ray Gooding, ECC’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We appreciate the inconvenience that this will cause many parents.
"However, Essex is seeing an exponential increase in Covid rates across all areas and remains in the highest level of local Covid restrictions. We therefore welcome further action to mitigate this as soon as possible.”
Dr Mike Gogarty, ECC’s Director of Public Health, said: “This move has been deemed necessary in order to roll out the mass testing programme planned by DfE and ensure pupils return to school in the safest possible way in January.
“Due to the amount of people that travel to and from school or college, use public transport and come into close contact on a daily basis as part of the school day, widespread testing measures are welcome to mitigate further spread, particularly of the new variant of Covid-19.”