THE ARMY is "on standby" to test thousands of school kids as the new term was postponed and pupils could stay home until February.
The Ministry of Defence has announced more than 1,500 military personally will be drafted in to help get mass testing up and running in time to get students back in class.
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Only primary school kids and Years 11 and 13 will return to class on January 4 – but some pupils could be stuck at home until February under Covid plans.
Hardline unions have demanded children take even more time off school.
And the Government’s scientists and other Cabinet members are in favour of extended closures — with schools staying shut until February being one option.
Most of the army personnel will be sent out to form local response teams, providing support and advice over the phone to schools that need guidance on setting up testing facilities.
Support will be done "through webinars" and "individual meetings" but teams could also be on standby to provide in-person support if needed.
Most students will swab themselves, with trained school staff or volunteers supervising.
Teachers are not expected to have to test kids themselves.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The UK armed forces are stepping up once again this holiday.
"They'll share considerable experience of testing across the country and the successful school pilots conducted this autumn.
"We are grateful for the professionalism and commitment they and our colleagues in teaching are showing to get students back into the classroom and on with their education."
The armed forces were previously recruited to assist with pilot mass testing schemes in Liverpool in November.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said yesterday the military help in schools is a "true cross-Government effort" to help "break chains of transmission" and keep schools open for all kids.
Mr Williamson had a crunch meeting with Boris Johnson yesterday on getting schools back after the Christmas break – but no conclusion was reached as fevers over kids' wellbeing hit fever-pitch.
Yesterday, Michael Gove said the current plan was for primary school pupils, GCSE and A-level students and kids of key workers to return to school next week, with other secondary school students returning the following week.
But he warned that this could be changed amid reviews, with longer periods of enforced online learning as a possibility.
The Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies had told the PM infections would spiral out of control unless secondary schools are closed in January.
They warned even a lockdown might not stem the tide of growing infections.
Yesterday, there were 41, 385new infections – an all time high, with 357 deaths.
Tory MP and the Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon was furious with suggestions kids' education would one again be sacrificed.
He told Good Morning Britain he had been given no evidence the new variant was more infectious in kids.
He stormed: "Whatever the risk, we have to weigh up the risks of children's academic attainment, their mental health, their wellbeing."
Mr Halfon warned kids were already 15-22 months behind where they would have been if schools had stayed open.
"We don't have a vaccine for destroying life chances," he said.
He demanded the Government avoid a situation where there is a "revolving door" of school closures which would cause an "epidemic of education poverty".
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU) told Mr Williamson and the PM to share evidence on safety in schools – and keep kids at home for a fortnight.
It said: "You certainly cannot expect education staff to show good will towards your plans for education if you do not at least share all the information you have about this dreadful disease with them."
And Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, told Mr Williamson that all pupils living in the highest Tiers should not return to school.
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