A council has warned that primary schools facing a lack of staff “may need to remain closed” as most begin to welcome pupils back to the classroom.

Many primary schools across Hertfordshire will reopen today (January 4) despite a rise of coronavirus cases during the Christmas period.

Only those in Watford, Hertsmere, Broxbourne and Three Rivers have been told to stay closed – they will be open for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.

But while primary schools are set to open to all pupils in the remaining six districts, Hertfordshire County Council says it will accept that a school may need to close due to “operational reasons”.

The county council has admitted that not all schools may be ready to open their doors if there is a lack of teaching staff and is expecting schools to assess their staffing levels today.

However, the county council is not advising that primary schools should close “as a matter of policy or infection control”.

The council said in a statement: “Hertfordshire County Council recognises that, where schools are not confident that they will be able to open and operate safely and effectively due to insufficient teaching staff on Monday 4th January, we will offer advice and guidance on a case-by-case basis and accept that for operational reasons the school may need to remain closed.

“We expect that children of critical workers will continue to attend school, and also vulnerable children.

“Hertfordshire County Council notes the firm expectation of the Prime Minister and the Department of Education that schools will remain open wherever possible and is not advising schools to close on Monday as a matter of policy or infection control, unless located in an area identified by the Government's Contingency Framework.

 “We will expect schools to assess their positions on Monday in relation to staffing levels and then plan ahead for the rest of the week. We would anticipate that schools will use their normal communications to advise parents of the arrangements for their individual schools.

 “We fully appreciate that these are difficult and concerning times for people, however, we do need to consider the importance of education for children of all ages and the mental, behavioural and social benefits that come from being in a school environment. Our continued thanks to our school Heads and all the school staff for their constant and incredible work in providing education for all our young people.”

Secondary schools in England will have a staggered return, with those taking exams this year resuming in-person teaching on January 11 and other year groups on January 18.