Mayor and Councils 'Not Consulted' on Primary School Decision

Most children in local boroughs to be taught at home next week


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The Mayor of London and council leaders have said they were not consulted on the Government’s decision to close most primary schools in the capital from next week.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced this Thursday that primary schools in much of England would reopen as planned on January 4 but would remain closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers in “areas of concern” including most of London and parts of Essex.

Boroughs in which the reopening of primary schools has been postponed include Ealing, Hounslow, Wandsworth, Hammersmith & Fulham and Merton.

The Department for Education confirmed there will be a review of the closures every two weeks.

The education secretary told BBC Breakfast that remote learning would be "mandatory" from the week commencing 11 January for all secondary students, other than years 11 and 13 who would physically return to school on that date.

Secondary school pupils in exam years will return to classrooms on January 11 with the remainder of pupils returning a week later on January 18 to allow for the implementation of mass testing.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it is the “right decision” to delay the start of term but has said he is “urgently seeking clarification” as to why primary schools in some areas of London will be opening from next week but not others.

Mr Khan said: “No one wants our children’s education to be disrupted by school closures. But with the rate of infection now dangerously high in London and hospitals battling with a surge in coronavirus cases, it is the right decision to delay the reopening of London’s schools for in-person learning in the worst-hit areas, with the exception of vulnerable children and the children of key workers. We know that before Christmas secondary school-aged students had the highest rates of the virus and were passing it onto their families, and this move is critical to help slow the spread.

“However, it seems council leaders, headteachers and governing bodies were not consulted by the Government about this decision and it will be very confusing for parents that some primaries will be open, but others just down the road won’t. I am urgently seeking clarification as to why schools in some London boroughs have been chosen to stay open.”

At least three London councils, including Greenwich, wrote to schools before Christmas asking that they reduce face to face teaching due to a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases, but were threatened with legal action by the Government as a result. Greenwich is now one of 10 London boroughs that will see primary school pupils return from January 4.

Greenwich council’s leader, Labour councillor Danny Thorpe, told Times Radio this morning that “nobody really sees the logic” of the Government’s decision and that he hopes the Education Secretary will clarify why it was made.

Cllr Thorpe said: “It’s clear that other boroughs that have been asked to remain closed have lower infection rates than we do in Greenwich

“I think it’s fair to say that nobody really sees the logic of this announcement.”

Cllr Thorpe continued: “I can’t logically explain why a child in Bexley can’t go to school and one in Greenwich can.”

Pressed on whether he would comply with the Government’s decision, Cllr Thorpe said he hoped an agreement could be reached but conceded that primary schools in Greenwich would “have to” open from Monday if not.

Cllr Tom Bruce, Hounslow’s Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Youth Services, said, “I am glad the Government has listened to scientific advice, but it is highly regrettable that once again all these decisions and these announcements continue to come so late and give schools little or no time to plan. We will ensure that those who are eligible for free school meals can continue to gain access to this important support.

“We are also supporting the roll-out of rapid, asymptomatic testing in secondary schools and colleges across the borough from the beginning of January. This is a further measure to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. ‘Rapid tests’ or ‘lateral flow tests’ will be used to test staff, pupils and students who do not have symptoms, but could be passing on the virus without knowing. All schools and colleges in the borough with secondary-age pupils and students, including special schools and alternative provision, will be offered the opportunity and we are providing planning support to assist with the process. Arrangements for carrying out the rapid tests will vary by individual school or college and headteachers will be advising parents and staff directly to confirm details.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson took to morning television on New Year’s Eve to clarify the decision to postpone the return of schools in some areas and said that the measures were taken “on public health advice”.

Mr Williamson said, “The work that was done with the Department of Health who identified areas where it was either a very high rate or, using their latest data, were seeing very sharp increases in the number of cases or equally the pressures on hospitals in that area and the clinical needs.

“These were all the considerations that were taken into account but what I want to say, and this will come as no surprise to you whatsoever, I want to see schools, any school, that’s closed for those first two weeks, opening at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The Government said it expects to deliver 50,000 laptops and tablets to schools across the country on Monday to support remote learning while schools remain closed, with a further 100,000 devices to be delivered over the following week.

Joe Talora - Local Democracy Reporter

December 31, 2020