Teachers' union demands ALL schools stay closed after Government U-turn on London primaries

Teachers' union demands ALL schools stay closed after Government U-turn on London primaries

01/02/2021

A TEACHERS' union is demanding all schools stay closed after the government's U-turn on London primary schools.

All primary schools in the tier four capital will remain shut as 10 more boroughs were added after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson caved in to pressure.

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Ministers bowed to parents' fury, legal pressure and scientific advice amid spiralling infections in London.

After the government backtracked, one leading union said "what is right for London is right for the rest of the country".

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the Government's had changed its "obviously nonsensical position".

She urged ministers to "do their duty" and shut all primary and secondary schools to stem the tide of a mutant coronavirus strain.

'TSUNAMI OF PATIENTS'

Dr Bousted said: "The question has to be asked: why are education ministers so inadequate and inept? Who is advising them?

"And what is right for London is right for the rest of the country.

"With the highest level of Covid-19 infection and hospitals buckling under the tsunami of very ill patients, it is time for ministers to do their duty – to protect the NHS by following Sage advice and close all primary and secondary schools to reduce the 'R' rate below one."

Research from Imperial College shows the new mutant of Covid is affecting a greater proportion of youngsters aged under 20.

But experts are divided on closing schools to battle the spread of the new variant.

With the highest level of Covid-19 infection and hospitals buckling under the tsunami of very ill patients, it is time for ministers to do their duty – to protect the NHS by following Sage advice and close all primary and secondary schools to reduce the 'R' rate below one

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, said children were affected "the least of all age groups", adding: "So if you want actions based on science,closing schools is a bad idea."

The U-turn on London schools comes after it was announced that primary schools in 49 of the worst-hit Covid areas would be closed until at least January 18.

The Sun revealed last week that ministers were ordering primaries in the worst Covid hotspots to stay shut after the holidays.

It affected 23 councils across large chunks of London — but ten boroughs were left out.

Islington, Camden, Hackney, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Haringey, and Harrow councils planned to go to court if Mr Williamson did not extend the shutdown. Leaders said their infection rates are higher than in many areas where schools are staying shut and they warned of “grave consequences for our ­communities.”

Nine London authorities wrote a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking for primary schools in their area to remain closed, while threatening to take legal action, the Guardian reported.

At an emergency Cabinet Office meeting, 10 additional London education authorities were added to the list.

'TEMPORARY SOLUTION'

Mr Williamson said: "Children’s education and wellbeing remains a national priority.

"Moving further parts of London to remote education really is a last resort and a temporary solution.

“As infection rates rise across the country, and particularly in London, we must make this move to protect our country and the NHS.

"We will continue keep the list of local authorities under review, and reopen classrooms as soon as we possibly can.”

Councillor Caroline Kerr, the leader of Kingston Council in south-west London, said: "We are dismayed at the way the Government has handled this situation and recognise that this has caused a great deal of worry for parents and carers, children, and for teachers and school staff in our borough."

A council statement added: "It never made sense that neighbouring boroughs were being instructed to have different arrangements despite having similar rates of infection."

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: "Over the past week we have seen infections and hospitalisations rise sharply across London and hospitals are coming under increased pressure.

"While our priority is to keep as many children as possible in school, we have to strike a balance between education and infection rates and pressures on the NHS.

"The situation in London continues to worsen and so today we are taking action to protect the public and reduce the spread of this disease in the community.

"Everyone across London must take this situation incredibly seriously and act responsibly to minimise the spread of this deadly disease."

Additional London boroughs added

Additional London boroughs added:

  • Camden
  • City of London
  • Greenwich
  • Hackney
  • Haringey
  • Harrow
  • Islington
  • Kingston upon Thames
  • Lambeth
  • Lewisham

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: "It is good news that the Government has finally seen sense and announced this U-turn.

"The Government's original decision was ridiculous and has been causing immense confusion for parents, teachers and staff across the capital.

"It is right that all schools in London are treated the same, and that no primary schools in London will be forced to open on Monday."

But Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said: “Gavin Williamson’s incompetent handling of the return of schools and colleges is creating huge stress for parents, pupils, and school and college staff.”

Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union called for a national school shutdown.

She added: “Why are education ministers so inadequate and inept?”

UNHAPPY PARENTS

One dad slammed the government's "absurd" decision to keep his daughter's school open in a Covid hotspot while another is shut 700 yards away.

Stephen Cook's daughter Holly, 10, and other pupils must attend Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, North London.

The government had said schools in the borough, Haringey, can remain open despite soaring infection rates.

But less than a ten-minute walk away from Holly's school, another primary school Coppetts Wood, in the borough of Barnet, will close until January 18.

Mr Cook, 55, told MailOnline: "It's all very confusing and totally absurd.

The decision comes as Sage advisors warn that schools may be closed until mid-February while a mutant Covid strain sweeps through London and the South East.

The group warned classrooms may need to be closed until the February half-term as current measures could prove "insufficient" in curbing the virus.

Senior Ministers admitted schools could stay shut after No 10 reviews measures on January 18, reports The Telegraph.

A source told the paper: “The closure of schools until mid-February is an entirely possible scenario.

"We don’t have the data for Christmas yet but we will by January 18 and it’s difficult to see that being an improvement.”

Another senior source added: “We have been careful not to say they will definitely reopen on January 18 because we don’t know that.”

Minutes from a Sage meeting that took place before Christmas revealed officials were skeptical a November-style lockdown could help prevent the spread of the super-infectious new strain of coronavirus.

Mr Williamson has been criticised for the "confusing" guidance on schools – which saw one reopen and one shut on the same street.

One frustrated mum said it was "utterly ridiculous" for her kids to go back to class just half a mile away from an area considered too unsafe for another school to open.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee expressed concern over the "patchwork" closures.

He said: "I am worried two weeks will become four weeks and then six weeks."

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