Those studying for the exams are expected to return normally in January, but most students will start the year online, to allow for the rollout of mass testing at the start of the term.
Primary students will return to school normally in January, alongside vulnerable students and the children of key workers.
Two rapid tests will be offered to students attending classes, three days apart, with positive results confirmed by a laboratory PCR test.
People who test positive will have to self-isolate in accordance with the regulations in force.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This series of targeted tests will quell the virus as students return from the Christmas break and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the wider community.
“Building on the fantastic actions schools and colleges have already taken to be as safe as possible, these additional tests will catch those who have the virus but are not showing symptoms to help schools and colleges stay in control of the virus throughout the spring. .
“The new daily testing program for close contacts of those with confirmed cases of the virus also means that we will be able to keep more students in school, the best place for their development and well-being. During the remainder of the school year and along the way to exams, it will remain a national priority to keep education open to all, while ensuring safe schools. ”
Speaking about the plans, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters: “I think schools are going to be really frustrated that this has happened at the last moment.
“What we needed for the schools was a plan that started last September and what we encountered is one problem after another until Christmas time.
Teacher unions have also reacted to the news, and Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union (NEU) said the announcement “demonstrates ministerial panic rather than rational and responsible action in response. to the exponential increase in COVID-19 infection rates among high school students ”. .
She added: “Today we are writing to Gavin Williamson with a series of urgent questions on today’s announcement. ”
It comes after Susan Acland-Hood, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education (DfE), earlier told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the DfE did not have “Any plan to extend the Christmas holidays”.
PAC President Meg Hillier said it was “ridiculous” that in the closing days of the term many parents and school leaders were unsure of what would happen when schools returned in a few weeks.
A small study published earlier suggested that more than half of English schools surveyed had at least one COVID-19 infection in the past month, with just 1.24% of students testing positive and 1.29% of staff.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, a consultant epidemiologist from Public Health England who led the investigation, said early results from the small study suggest the proportion of positive tests among staff and students reflects the general population.