Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said the Government hopes the staggered reopening of schools in England will go ahead in January as planned.

Officials from Downing Street and the Department for Education are due to discuss the issue today (Monday) amid concerns over the spread of a new strain of coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the Government said exam-year students would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, but the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow headteachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Mr Gove said the Government was confident primary school pupils and Year 11 and Year 13 pupils in England would be able to return in the first week of January, and hopes the rest can return a week later.

He said: "It is our intention to make sure we can get children back to school as early as possible.

"We are talking to teachers and headteachers in order to make sure we can deliver effectively. But we all know that there are trade-offs.

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"As a country we have decided – and I think this is the right thing to do – that we prioritise children returning to school.

"But we have a new strain and it is also the case that we have also had, albeit in a very limited way, Christmas mixing, so we do have to remain vigilant.

"We are confident that we will be able to get schools back in good order. Our plan and our timetable is there, and we are working with teachers to deliver it."

He also told Sky News: "We always keep things under review but teachers and headteachers have been working incredibly hard over the Christmas period since schools broke up in order to prepare for a new testing regime – community testing – in order to make sure that children and all of us are safer."

Scientists have suggested that the mutated coronavirus strain could more easily infect children.

The National Education Union has previously said the Government should allow schools to move classes online for most pupils for a fortnight in January to allow Covid-19 cases to fall.

Hertfordshire County Council said this month that a surge in cases in the county was linked to children aged 10 to14.

A heatmap published on the government's dashboard shows there are now less cases involving youngsters in the county, with people aged in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and those aged over 80 making up most of the latest infections.