Secondary schools in England are to have a staggered return after the festive holidays, with online learning replacing classroom lessons.

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said testing would “clamp down” on the virus after the Christmas break.

The delay is intended to allow schools to set up Covid testing schemes, which have drawn sharp criticism from headteachers and union leaders for the demands they make on staff time.

Apart from students taking GCSEs, A-levels and vocational exams next year, secondary school pupils will study online for the first week back in January. Primary schools will not be affected.

The announcement comes as data from Public Health England, Office for National Statistics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine revealed that out of 10,000 staff and pupils 1.24% of pupils and 1.29% of staff tested positive for coronavirus in schools.

From 4 January, all students and staff will be offered 2 lateral flow device tests, prioritising staff, vulnerable young people, and the other priority groups.

The Department for Education has said students will not need to self-isolate if another student or staff member tests positive in their “bubble” if they agree to be tested once a day in the new year,

Testing will not be mandated and all students will be expected to attend school or college from 11th January regardless of whether a test has been undertaken unless they are self-isolating.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said teachers will not have to administer the vaccines but that the Armed Forces and volunteers and agency workers will administer the tests.