Councils Move To Defy Boris Johnson And Keep Primary Schools Closed

The situation has been described as an “absolute, total shambles”.

Some councils in south-east England have intervened to keep primary schools closed this week, despite Boris Johnson’s assurances over the weekend sending kids in was “safe” amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic.

The situation has been described as an “absolute, total shambles” by a former boss at the charity Teach First, as parents and teachers begin the week with a confusing picture of which schools are open, which are closed and which are asking the government to stay shut until later this month.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was “very hard to tell” how many schools would be open for the start of the term.

“Some schools in tier 4 areas will be open for vulnerable pupils and key worker families and will be providing remote learning for others, yet in other areas also in tier 4, all pupils will be admitted,” he said.

“That’s a confusing picture for school leaders and families alike.”

All of London’s primary schools and those in some surrounding areas will not reopen until January 18 due to the fast-spreading variant of Covid-19 while those elsewhere have been told to stay open.

But councils in Cumbria and Kent have urged the government to allow schools to remain closed in other areas, while teaching unions are calling for all schools to switch to remote learning for a brief period.

In Brighton and Hove, City Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty has written to headteachers and advised them to stay closed.

Council leaders in Wolverhampton, Norfolk, Slough, Manchester, County Durham, Lancashire, Birmingham and Gateshead said they would support the decision of head teachers who do not think it is safe for the school to open, PA Media reports.

On Sunday, Cumbria County Council said it had written to the Department for Education (DfE) for permission to keep primary schools in the area closed for the first two weeks of term.

Stewart Young, leader of the council in the rural county – which is one of the areas outside London and the South East hardest hit by the variant, said the Government had responded that schools should open as planned.

“This is disappointing news and I feel that this is the wrong decision for Cumbria and for our families and communities,” he said in a statement.

Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough urged Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to keep all primary schools in the county closed, saying it is “very hard to justify” letting some schools open while others are closed.

Primary school pupils in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are expected to return on Monday while the other districts in Kent will learn remotely for the first two weeks of term.

Similarly, Essex County Council said it was seeking “urgent clarity” from the government on the position of reopening schools in north Essex amid rising infection rates.

It said that primary schools in Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford – the only districts in Essex where schools were due to reopen – would move to remote learning from Tuesday.

Brighton and Hove City Council has advised primary schools in the Tier 4 area not to return in person, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers, until January 18.

Elsewhere, Frances Grady, general secretary of the TUC, has said parents should be eligible for furlough payments while schools are closed.

She said: “Without further action, many will have no choice but to cut their hours or take unpaid leave from work,” said Frances Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“This will lead to further hardship and will hit mums and single parents hardest.”

On Sunday, Boris Johnson said he has “no doubt” that classrooms are safe and parents should send children back to schools in England which remain open.

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Johnson said: “Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that.

“I would advise all parents thinking about want to do, look at where your area is, overwhelmingly you’ll be in a part of the country where primary schools tomorrow will be open.”

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.


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