THE reopening of schools next week may be delayed as part of measures to tackle soaring coronavirus case numbers, scientists advising the Government have suggested.

School leaders have also warned that teachers and pupils may be put at risk if secondaries reopen, as planned, while a new ultra-transmissible strain of Covid-19 is driving a rise in hospital admissions.

Earlier this month, the Government said exam-year students would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, but the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow headteachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff. But experts have suggested any reopening may have to be delayed.

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.

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

“The problem is the Government don’t seem to be talking to the those who are doing the job.

“It has been an incredibly difficult for senior staff and we are now starting to see increased vacancies for headships.”