The education secretary has apologised to the nation’s pupils after admitting there is no date set for schools to be reopened.
Gavin Williamson said the government’s five tests to prove the virus is in decline must be met before schools can re-open – while noting there were no plans to restart lessons over the course of the summer holidays.
The minister said the coronavirus pandemic was at a stage where there are “an awful lot of questions” which people would love to have answers to.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing, Mr Williamson said: “People are anxious to know when we’re going to relax restrictions, when schools are likely to be fully back and open again.
“Of course, I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure the children are sat around, learning, and experiencing the joy of being at school.
“But I can’t give you a date. Because before we do, we need to meet five tests.”
The five tests, first outlined by first minister Dominic Raab, include protecting the NHS’s ability to cope, seeing the daily death rates come down, and having reliable data that shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.
In a direct address to England’s schoolchildren, Mr Williamson added: “To any young people watching, I wanted to say to you how sorry I am that you’ve had your education disrupted in this way.
“I know how hard it must be, and I’d like to thank you for making the adjustments that you’ve had to make.
“I know you will be missing your friends, your teachers, your lessons.
“I want you to know that you are such an important part of this fight too, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you are doing.”
It came as the minister announced children from disadvantaged backgrounds across England would receive free laptops and tablets to help them learn from home during the lockdown – part of a push to make remote education accessible for pupils while schools are closed.
However, critics have said the measure does not go far enough, with a number of children anticipated to have fallen into vulnerability as a result of the virus. The Liberal Democrats, in a letter seen by The Independent, have called on the government to raise a volunteer force to identify at-risk children.
Resources are also being pooled into providing learning materials for families who have turned to homeschooling to maintain studies during the crisis.
A new online academy is being launched to offer pupils 180 online lessons a week following government support.
And the BBC is set to launch a range of new educational programming – with figures including footballer Sergio Aguero, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and actor Danny Dyer offering classes through the broadcaster.
Additional reporting by Press Association