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Boris Johnson is under pressure this weekend to open schools in England earlier than planned after 18 Conservative MPs backed a call to get children back into the classroom straight after next week's half term break.
The Prime Minister is insisting that schools cannot open before March 8 despite evidence that the 'R' rate of the coronavirus which determines the pace of its spreading is falling.
However Conservative MPs have thrown their weight behind UsforThem - a campaign representing tens of thousands of parents across the UK - which wants them to open on Feb 22.
Mr Johnson has said that opening schools in England is a "national priority" however both Scotland and Wales said last week that they would try to reopen on Feb 22.
Among the 18 Tories who signed the pledge that "All schools should open full-time to all pupils from 22 February to 8 March" are former Cabinet minister Esther McVey, ex-ministers Steve Baker, Tim Loughton and Harriet Baldwin and chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs Sir Graham Brady.
Most state schools in England break next week for half term in the week starting Monday Feb 15, which would mean pupils would back in classrooms straight after the break.
Last night Ms Mcvey said: “With the vaccination rollout going so well on the one hand, and the huge amount of harm we’re causing to children by not giving them an education on the other, I really hope that we can open school gates, classrooms and playgrounds on 22nd February.
"It’s simply not right to keep children locked up like this, especially once we’ve vaccinated the top four at risk groups.”
Another signatory Pauline Latham added: “We need a roadmap out of school closures starting from 22nd February.
"My grandchildren are missing their lessons, seeing their friends, developing socially and taking part in extracurricular activities that were so important in all of our development.
"With the vaccination rollout going so well, and schools opening in Scotland and Wales on 22nd, we must make every effort to get English schools open then too.”
Tory MP Sir Robert Syms, who also signed the pledge added: "All schools need to open after half term and the very least primary schools.
"We are causing great damage to the young and remote learning is no substitute for face to face teaching even if socially distanced face to face."
Conservative MP Karl McCartney - another signatory - said: "Our Government's vaccination roll-out is among the best in the world.
"Given the huge amount of harm as a nation we are causing to children with the school shutdown, I, along with many of my colleagues really hope that we can allow pupils back from 22nd February, or before.”
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: "The damage being done to the education of pupils, their social development and mental health is immense and we cannot allow children to be the forgotten victims.
"They are not victims of Covid, they are victims of lockdown and for them the cure is hugely more damaging than the virus itself and we cannot allow that to continue into March."
A senior Government source said: ‘We will proceed cautiously and carefully to open up based on the best available scientific evidence and data and to avoid a resurgence in the virus.
"The Prime Minister has been clear that our first step must be to reopen schools."
Whitehall sources pointed out that the rates of Covid in Scotland are half those of England, while March 8 is three weeks after we expect to have vaccinated the most vulnerable when they will have built up protection.