Mayors of some of the areas hardest-hit by Covid-19 have called for England’s schools and colleges to close during the lockdown.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotherham said that education institutions should close to reduce the spread of the virus more quickly.
Scientists have also warned Covid-19 is spreading fast in secondary schools.
But cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “We want to keep schools open.”
Mr Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the government was taking the necessary measures to keep schools open.
He rejected the suggestion that it would mean a longer period of lockdown because schools staying open would contribute to the continued transmission of coronavirus.
Infection rates among secondary school children “appear to be steeply increasing”, according to the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics.
An estimated 2% of children in Year 7 to Year 11 tested positive for the virus in the most recent week of testing, the highest positivity rate of any age group except sixth-formers and young adults.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told the Andrew Marr Show that keeping schools open was the “big difference” between the new restrictions and the lockdown in spring.
“Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown it does make keeping schools open harder,” he said.
“We know that transmission, particularly in secondary schools, is high.”
He said that closing schools “may have to be revisited” over the next four weeks if the transmission of the virus continues to rise.