Covid-19

The government doesn’t have “any plans to lengthen” the Christmas holidays, but “conversations” are ongoing about “how” pupils will go back, the Department for Education’s top civil servant has said.

Appearing in front of the Parliamentary public accounts committee, DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood was quizzed about reports that ministers are considering a delay to the start of term.

Asked whether schools would still return on January 4 or 5 as planned, Acland-Hood she her department wanted as much education provided to children in January as possible, and “we don’t have any plans to lengthen the Christmas holiday”.

However, she added: “There are conversations going on about exactly how parents and pupils will go back at the beginning of January, but I’m afraid I can’t speak to the committee about that this morning.

“I’m afraid that we really understand how important it is that we give clarity soon, and there are conversations going on, but I can’t comment on news stories this morning, I’m sorry.”

Chair Meg Hillier said it was “ludicrous” that Acland-Hood was unable to confirm details given schools will break up today and tomorrow, but the top civil servant said she “cannot communicate a decision that has not yet been made or communicated by ministers”.

Asked when an announcement would be made, Acland-Hood said: “We all appreciate that if there is going to be any change it needs to be communicated as soon as possible and that means today.”

During the hearing, MPs received word that ministers are due to issue a written statement to Parliament on education later today.

Asked if that concerned the decision about January, Acland-Hood said: “I believe so.”