EDUCATION Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he is "confident" that England will not be plunged into a third national lockdown in January amid rising cases, hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19.

Mr Williamson said that the Government's tiered approach is the "right approach", despite a further fourth tier having to be created two weeks ago due to the existing tiers not being sufficient to contain Covid-19.

He also expressed confidence pupils will return to school as normal in mid-January, and that exams will go ahead as planned in the summer.

He said: “We’re taking the absolute right approach to pursue the tiering system.

“It’s really important that areas have the opportunity to move down the tiering system as well as having to sometimes move areas up the tiering system.

“We recognise there are impositions that this has on everyone’s lives but it is the right approach, it’s the proper approach.

“This is a robust approach, so I’m confident that we won’t be moving into a national lockdown situation because the tiering structure is the right place to be.”

On schools, he added: “In terms of secondary year groups, the reason we have moved that back is so we give all schools, every single school, every single college that teaches secondary-age pupils the opportunity to roll out a mass testing regime, making sure we root out this coronavirus.

“It’s not just about making it safer for pupils, it’s not just about making it safer for those who work in schools, but actually it’s about rooting out coronavirus in our communities and we did need to give schools a little bit extra time."

He said the Government is "absolutely confident" a week is enough time to prepare for a functioning mass testing system.

"We’ll be seeing all the testing equipment that is needed for schools being delivered on January 4, schools have already had notice of the guidance of what they need to do, they’ve also had notification of the extra £78 million that we’re offering.

“At every stage we’re making sure that children are able to benefit from getting a brilliant education that we want all our children to get.”

Confirming exams will go ahead, Mr Williamson added: “Yes – that’s why we took the move to keep those children who are in those exam cohorts – those exam years, so Year 11 and Year 13 – still coming into school from January 11.

“Making sure that the first ones back into school, into secondary schools, even in those areas that have those extra restrictions that are imposed on them, those children will still be going into school, still be studying.

"They will be getting remote education from January 4 but they will going in for face-to-face teaching on January 11.”