THE HEADTEACHER of an Andover school has said that online lessons are not a "viable long-term substitute" to attending school in person.

Anthony Kirk-Burgess, headmaster at the independent Rookwood School, said that "reopening schools is the only way to ensure that all children have a full and fair access to education".

But he added this must be done safely.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that it would not be possible to reopen schools as planned immediately after February half term.

Instead, the government says that if vaccine rollout to the most vulnerable is as planned, schools could begin to return on March 8.

Mr Kirk-Burgess has said that he would like to see regular testing of pupils and vaccinations for staff as part of the return to schools.

Speaking to the Advertiser, he said: "I am sure that every headteacher would agree with me by saying that reopening schools is the only way to ensure that all children have a full and fair access to education.

"Whilst Rookwood is working hard to continue to provide a quality education remotely and I am exceptionally proud of how the school community has adapted, online learning is not a viable long-term substitute to attending school in person.

"The negative impact on the mental health of children, staff and parents cannot be underestimated.

"I would therefore be delighted if schools were allowed to reopen to more pupils as soon as possible. However, it must be done safely.

"I would like to see regular testing of pupils (especially those over 12) and vaccinations for all staff. I agree that the most vulnerable in society should be vaccinated first, but then school and childcare staff need to be a priority."

He added that he is "optimistic" that schools will indeed see a phased reopening before Easter.

Announcing his decision to keep schools closed beyond the end of February half term, the PM told the Commons on Wednesday: "Boris Johnson told the Commons: “The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms.

"I know how parents and teachers need as much certainty as possible including two weeks’ notice of the return of face-to-face teaching."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for teachers to be vaccinated during February half term week.