A LEADING teacher says the return of schools from next week is “frightening” as the Education Secretary revealed a shake-up of his plan for education’s restart.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Gavin Williamson told MPs that the “vast majority of primary schools would open as planned” on January 4.

He confirmed that a small number of schools in areas where the “infection rate is highest” – this does not include Cumbria – would not reopen, except for vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

Pupils in exam years will return on January 11, with secondary school pupils returning on January 18.

Secondary schools will reopen to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers on January 4.

All remaining pupils will return on January 18, in “most areas”, Mr Williamson said.

Gavin Williamson said testing will begin “in earnest” in January, with those in exam years at the head of the queue.

He told MPs: “All pupils in exam years are to return during the week beginning January 11 with all secondary school and college students returning full time on January 18.

“During the first week of term on or 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 children and children of key workers.”

Louise Atkinson, national executive member for the National Education Union and a teacher in Carlisle, said: “Nobody wants schools shut but this is frightening.”

She said she would have preferred a delayed reopening of all schools – not just secondary schools.

“At this stage with the rates as they are in the county, yes, to protect staff and pupils is quite sensible to try and get the virus under control,” explained Mrs Atkinson.

She said that “nobody wants to see children at home” but that schools are now “better placed for remote working”.

“I am scared and scared to go back into school myself,” Mrs Atkinson added.

“SAGE said that schools are amplifiers for infections. We (as schools) have done everything we can to stay open and keep children safe and communities safe but with the new strain and numbers going up I am concerned.”

Chris Brooksbank, National Education Union secretary for Cumbria, said: “In Cumbria there was a testing pilot being put in place before Christmas for some secondary schools.

“The Government were deciding on a plan, it wasn’t perfect, but the schools were prepared for the testing.

“Other secondary schools will have not have the testing procedure plans in place like these schools.

“I just cannot see how schools could set this up by themselves like they are being required.

“Government are expecting school staff to be medical professionals.

“The schools in Cumbria that were not involved in the pilot haven’t had the time to plan this and they have not had expertise and knowledge to help them.”

The NEU’s position is that schools should start the new year with a period of online learning, following advice given by the chief medical officer.

“I think it is really important to clarify that staff will still be teaching and supporting students, especially those that are the most vulnerable,” Mr Brooksbank continued. “The latest ONS data groups are frankly terrifying and some of the biggest rises are those in secondary schools, and those are the ones that have been identified.

“The cases in primary schools are rocketing as well, it won’t be long before they overtake secondary schools.

“I think we will probably see some form of announcement at the end of the week.”