The Government plans to keep schools open until the Christmas holidays, an education minister has said.
Children’s Minister, Will Quince, said it was “deeply regrettable” that some school nativity plays have been cancelled.
His comments came after the NASUWT teaching union’s national official for Northern Ireland called on schools to cancel mass gatherings over Christmas amid staff shortages caused by Covid-19.
Justin McCamphill said the Government may need to consider a circuit-breaker closure of Northern Ireland’s schools to stop the spread of the virus.
When asked whether schools will be kept open until the Christmas break, Mr Quince told the Commons Education Committee: “That is certainly our plan and we want to see schools stay open.”
The minister told MPs: “There are schools that are cancelling nativities. I find that deeply regrettable and Christmas concerts is one of the loveliest things.
“Unfortunately, as MPs, we very rarely get to go to our children’s but often get to see them online, but they are wonderful, wonderful things.”
He added: “But there will be some areas where there is a higher prevalence of transmission.
“The directors of public health guidance will say, ‘look, actually big gatherings probably isn’t the right thing to do’. Or, ‘if you’ve got parents coming into school to watch a play, wearing a mask might be a sensible precautionary measure’.
“So I think, ultimately, on balance, it comes down to trusting schools and headteachers and directors of public health.”
Face masks are now being recommended in communal areas of England’s secondary schools and colleges following the emergence of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the Commons Education Committee, questioned why schools are facing tougher safety measures than other settings, such as offices and nightclubs.
He said: “I don’t understand because it seems to be all the burden is being put on children. They seem to be suffering the most in this without a doubt.
“Because we allow people to go to nightclubs and bars, and yet schools are closing down nativity plays or putting them online.”
Responding to the concerns, Mr Quince said: “We are taking a cautionary approach given what we don’t know at the moment about the new variant.
“But, ultimately, it’s all about keeping school and educational settings open.”
The children’s minister was also questioned by MPs over the Government’s action in regards to recent reports of teachers being subjected to abuse through messages and imagery posted on TikTok.
Mr Quince said: “I regularly meet with the Children’s Commissioner who has lots of concerns on this issue.
“And I have to say I am deeply concerned by the abhorrent abuse that some teachers have faced on TikTok and other social media channels.
“It is totally unacceptable and the social media companies need to do far more to address it. They need to take action to take down this harmful content as quickly as possible.”
He added that ministers and the Children’s Commissioner are hosting a roundtable with the major social media companies on Wednesday afternoon to set out these issues and the Government’s expectations.