Michael Gove dealt another blow to parents today as he suggested schools could remain closed after the February half-term.
In a stark warning this morning, the former education secretary hinted schools may open even later than expected if the government's vaccination drive lags behind.
As England is placed in the grip of another lockdown, Mr Gove warned that restrictions will only start to be lifted gradually in March - forcing parents and teachers to brace for yet more weeks of home learning.
The Cabinet Minister said that while education was the 'number one priority', the government, 'must make progress with vaccination.'
Last night Boris Johnson 'bowed to the inevitable' and shut all schools until February 22.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The eleventh hour u-turn - which came on the day many reopened after Christmas - has infuriated school leaders and unions who attacked the Government's policy as 'madness'.
Mr Gove also suggested that end-of-year exams for pupils will be abolished in favour of alternative styles of assessment following the new lockdown.
Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether A-levels and GCSEs in England are cancelled, the former education secretary said: 'Yes.'
He added: 'My own daughter is due to sit A-levels this year, my son due to sit GCSEs - I know how hard students across the country between Years 11 and 13 have been working.
'We will be putting in place alternative arrangements in order to make sure that the hard work that students have put in to acquire knowledge and develop their skills is appropriately assessed, recognised and awarded.'
A youngster begins the new school term of 2021 at home by watching an online introduction from his teacher
Year 9 student Isla Stanton, 14, begins her home learning in Ashford, Kent
As England is placed in the grip of another lockdown and months more coronavirus chaos:Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer Rishi Sunak today announced another £4.6billion of bailouts for lockdown-stricken businesses as economists warned of the 'colossal' hit from the surging pandemic; Arrivals at UK borders are set to have to show they have tested negative for Covid in the last 72 hours in another major U-turn from government; The PM is set to hold a press conference with medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance at 5pm; Streets and city centres were quiet as Britons digested the new restrictions being placed on their lives; Hundreds of medical professionals have called for hospital staff to be given higher grade personal protective equipment (PPE) amid growing concern over airborne transmission of coronavirus; The scale of the problem was underlined as the latest grim daily tally was released, with 58,784 new cases - a 42 per cent rise on last Monday.
Mr Gove said the full details are being worked out between Ofqual and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
He added: 'One of the things about assessment is that it necessarily involves those students doing particular tasks which teachers will assess.
'Whether or not they are moderated in a particular fashion by particular awarding bodies or others is a delicate process.'
He also said the Prime Minister, who had urged that pupils carry on attending schools just hours before announcing on Monday night that they would shut, had reluctantly decided to act when confronted with a change in coronavirus alert level.
He told BBC Breakfast: 'The four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom met and discussed the situation yesterday and their recommendation was that the country had to move to Level 5, the highest level available of alert that meant there was an imminent danger to the NHS of being overwhelmed unless action was taken.
'And so in the circumstances we felt that the only thing we could do was to close those primary schools that were open.
'Of course, it was with the heaviest of hearts because education is such an important part of any young person's life and we want to keep schools open as much as possible, but the message from the chief medical officers yesterday was clear and therefore, with a heavy heart but with clear evidence, we had to act.'
Mr Gove said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will address a recalled House of Commons on Wednesday to update MPs on how pupils will be assessed at the end of the year, following further disruption to their learning.
He told Sky News: 'The Education Secretary has been talking to the exams regulator Ofqual in order that we can find a way of recognising the immense hard work that students across the country have put in this year.
'Obviously we can't have A-levels, GCSEs or B-techs in the way that we have had them in the past but there are ways of ensuring that we can assess the work that students have done, give them a fair recognition of that and help them onto the next stage of their education.
'The Education Secretary will be saying more about that but it is critically important that parents and students recognise that their work will be recognised at the end of this year - it is not the case that anyone would, or anyone would want to, down tools as it were.
'It is critically important that children maintain their learning and we will be supporting them to do so by making it easier for more and more students to access remote learning.'
Isla Stanton gets set for another long day in front of the computer as she returns to home learning in Kent
Students have been left in tears amid more confusion over how Year 11 and Year 13 children will be assessed this year - including whether exams will definitely be stopped - with Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman telling ministers they must make up their minds