Parents have been urged not to pull children out of school ahead of the Christmas holidays over fears about infecting grandparents with coronavirus.

Ministers have insisted that finishing term early is “not the answer” to saving Christmas, adding that the best place for children to be is in the classroom.

On Sunday the Government announced families will be able to enjoy Christmas together across the whole of the UK after ministers agreed a plan that will allow up to four households to mix for five days. 

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “I know this is a challenging time but the latest data shows only 0.2 per cent of pupils were off school isolating with a confirmed case of coronavirus. Closing early for Christmas or extending the holidays is not the answer.

“The best place for children to be is in schools, which is why it remains a national priority to keep them open full-time and avoid further disruption to education.”

He added that children are at a very low risk from the virus and that the chief medical officer believes schools should remain open and has “highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children’s education, development and mental health, which greatly outweighs any other risks”.

The intervention comes amid warnings from teacher unions that some parents are planning to keep their children at home during the final two weeks of term because they are worried about them picking up coronavirus at school and passing it on to family members over Christmas.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said there is heightened concern among parents about their children being exposed to the virus in the run up to Christmas.

Mr Courtney said: “I’ve heard anecdotally of some parents saying ‘I am not going to run the risk of not taking my child to see gran’.

“We are hearing that parents won’t send their kids to school for the last couple of weeks to keep them safe.

“They would rather keep their children at home so that they are not told to isolate by their school. That is the concern that I am hearing.”

Earlier this week, headteachers warned that school attendance has plunged into chaos as the proportion sending classes home to self-isolate has doubled in a week.

Between 18 and 20 per cent of schools sent 30 or more pupils home last week to isolate, up from eight to nine per cent the week before, according to the latest official data published by the Department for Education.

Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of all secondaries in England sent at least one pupil home last week, up from 38 per cent the previous week. Fewer pupils were sent home from primaries, but the proportion had doubled in a week from 11 per cent to 22 per cent.  

An analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics by the NEU found that the rate of infection amongst secondary age pupils has risen by 51 times since the start of September and they have a significantly higher rate of infection than any other age group.

Robert Halfon MP, the Tory chair of the education select committee, told The Telegraph: “I understand the worries that parents may have, but we have to keep our children learning in school until the end of term, otherwise we are damaging their opportunities and their life chances.

"We will risk an epidemic of education poverty the longer children stay at home. Parents should follow the advice of the chief medical officer who says that it is safe for their children to  be in school. Children have lost already six months over the last year during the lockdown.”

Prof Lee Elliot Major, an expert in social mobility, added: “It’s absolutely crucial that children don’t suffer further learning losses after such a  disruptive year in their education. It would undermine teachers’ efforts to get their pupils up to speed, and potentially damage the future life prospects of the children.”