Parents face classroom closures chaos today as primaries across the country ...

Parents are facing chaos over classroom closures as primaries across the country stay shut today despite Boris Johnson insisting 'schools are safe'.

The Prime Minister told families yesterday that children should return to school in all areas where they were due to open today and tomorrow.

But as Covid-19 rates soar, teaching unions said that a 'snowball effect' was shutting scores of schools despite the official advice to stay open.

Yesterday council leaders in Cumbria, Brighton, Kent, Birmingham and Wolverhampton all formally requested permission for schools in their area to stay shut.

While it waits to hear back from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Brighton and Hove City Council has advised all primary heads to shut their schools, apart from for vulnerable children and those of key workers, and to move learning online.

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Ella Brucher, 35, a self-employed cleaner, has two children, Scarlet, six, and Dominic, ten, (pictured together) in Purley which is in Tier 4. Ms Brucher said: 'After not being able to work at all for three months earlier in the year, it's very difficult – and more than that, it's hard for the children, too. They want to be back at school.'

Ella Brucher, 35, a self-employed cleaner, has two children, Scarlet, six, and Dominic, ten, (pictured together) in Purley which is in Tier 4. Ms Brucher said: 'After not being able to work at all for three months earlier in the year, it's very difficult – and more than that, it's hard for the children, too. They want to be back at school.'

In Southampton the city council warned that some schools 'do not have enough staff to reopen safely to all children', while Slough Borough Council in Berkshire said some primaries would stay closed amid 'confusion across the board' caused by the Department for Education.

Councils in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne all pledged to support heads who needed to close their schools, while Preston City Council's leader said primaries should remain closed 'until they can reopen safely'.

Norfolk County Council also said it would support heads who needed to keep their schools shut.

The chaos has left thousands of parents facing a scramble to find care for their children.

It has worrying parallels with the first education shutdown in March, which was only announced by the Government after many schools had already closed of their own accord. Secondary school pupils in exam years are already due to return a week later than planned, from January 11, while other years are scheduled to go back from January 18.

And all London primaries were ordered to stay shut for the first two weeks of the January term after a U-turn on Friday.

The Government's list of areas where primaries will stay shut also includes parts of Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Now nearly a third of the country – some 17million people – are living in areas where primaries have been told to close by the Government, or where councils have said they will back heads who decide to close their gates. Despite the unfolding chaos, Mr Johnson said yesterday that he had 'no doubt' that classrooms were safe. He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: 'Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that.

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Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, (pictured together) and runs a social media consultancy from her Tier 4 home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. She says: 'As a self-employed single parent trying to maintain a business that was decimated at the start of lockdown, school is a lifeline for me'

Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, (pictured together) and runs a social media consultancy from her Tier 4 home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. She says: 'As a self-employed single parent trying to maintain a business that was decimated at the start of lockdown, school is a lifeline for me'

'The risk to kids, to young people is really very, very small indeed. The risk to staff is very small.'

He added: 'I understand people's frustrations, I understand people's anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.'

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his plans were insufficient and it was 'inevitable' many would stay closed today.

The unofficial closures came after Britain's biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, called an online meeting attended by 400,000 teachers and supporters where they were told to 'say no' to reopenings.

Kevin Courtney, its joint general secretary, told teachers who dialled in that they should protest against returning to school – and that this could lead to a 'snowball effect'. Within hours, the message appeared to be having an effect.

By last night, many schools had made the decision not to open, despite being outside the Government's 'contingency framework', which mandates closures, with some citing union advice. The Daily Mail has learned of many schools being forced into 11th-hour decisions in the face of staff shortages. For example, Lea Community Primary School, in Preston, said that 'due to health and safety, a rising increase in transmission and infection rates… and following advice of unions' it was unsafe for it to open.

Mr Johnson said yesterday that he had 'no doubt' that classrooms were safe

Mr Johnson said yesterday that he had 'no doubt' that classrooms were safe

And St Mary's Catholic Primary School, in Birmingham also said 'insufficient staff' was the reason behind its decision to close. All classes would be taught via 'live' lessons delivered online instead.

Bedford Primary School, in Bootle, Merseyside, said it would be shut to pupils, apart from those of key workers, for at least a week 'due to reduced staffing ratios.'

Salford mayor Paul Dennett wrote to Mr Williamson last night saying he wanted face-to-face learning to be looked at again. He said he would 'support any Salford school leader who assesses that it is not safe to open their school'.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Williamson gave no indication he was considering widening school closures. 'The safety of teachers and pupils will always be paramount, but we must all move heaven and earth to get children back to the classroom where they best thrive,' he wrote. 

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Labour MP says sorry to minister over jab 'queue-jumping' claim

A Labour shadow health spokesman has issued a grovelling apology for falsely suggesting the vaccine minister had jumped the queue to get a jab.

Rosena Allin-Khan admitted it had been 'inappropriate and wrong' to share unverified claims about Nadhim Zahawi.

The Labour frontbencher had posted on Twitter that she had heard 'rumours' the Tory minister and his family had been vaccinated in Wandsworth, south-west London. But after it transpired the rumour was untrue, Dr Allin-Khan was reprimanded by the Labour Party, ordered to remove her claims and told to apologise. She tweeted: 'I have deleted my earlier tweets which were inappropriate and wrong. I regret sharing unsubstantiated claims about the minister and I apologise to him and his family.'

Mr Zahawi, who is overseeing the vaccine rollout, then replied: 'Thank you for apologising. The accusation was not true. It is sad you chose to act like this, we all need to work together to beat this awful disease.'

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Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, and runs a social media consultancy from her home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Her area is in Tier Four, with

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