UK/December 16, 2021/By David Hughes/Source: https://inews.co.uk/
But will this lead to more widespread closures, and what will happen in January? Here’s what we know so far.
Why are some schools closing early?
A headteachers’ union has warned how schools are seeing “very severe low attendance” among pupils and teachers ahead of the Christmas break as the Omicron variant spreads.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said one school has had around 25 per cent of its staff off for three weeks due to the pandemic.
Some schools and colleges have reportedly switched to remote lessons in the run-up to Christmas, while some parents are choosing to keep their children off school due to concerns.
On 9 December, 236,000 pupils did not attend school for Covid-related reasons, up from 208,000.
Mr Barton told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Listening to the speculation and the news, and certainly the emails I’ve been getting from members, you are getting some pockets of very severe low attendance, partly young people, partly staff.
“One (school) has emailed me this morning saying 25 per cent of staff have been off for three weeks, you can imagine if you can’t then get supply teachers that becomes very difficult to maintain the quality of education.”
Two schools in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk – Sybil Andrews Academy and Abbots Green Academy – have moved to remote learning until the end of term on Friday after Covid cases emerged in the schools.
A joint statement from both academies said: “Whilst this is far from the end of term we wished for, it remains our intention to be able to salvage Christmas, but more importantly the health and wellbeing of our school communities.”
Abingdon and Witney College in Oxfordshire has also moved the majority of its lessons online this week as a “proactive measure” to reduce the number of people at their campuses.
In Wales, two councils, Denbighshire and Anglesey, decided to end face-to-face classes early on Friday December 17, with students expected to learn from home for the last three days of term.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said “it is already chaos in some schools” due to Covid, adding : “The few schools that have had to close have done so on the advice of public health teams.
“Some parents are choosing to keep their children off from school as they are so concerned. Many schools are struggling with the levels of Covid amongst both staff and pupils, which have shot up in the last week.”
In December last year, then education secretary Gavin Williamson threatened legal action against Greenwich council in London if it failed to keep its schools open to all pupils until the end of term.
Downing Street said schools which had been forced to close due to Covid would be helped to “reopen as soon as possible”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The latest data that DfE has shows that 99.9 per cent of schools are open.
Will other schools close before Christmas?
Schools should not be closing early for Christmas unless they have been told it is “necessary” on public health grounds, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated that schools would be kept open unless there is an “absolute public health emergency”.
Local authorities have been warned against shutting schools early for the festive break simply as a precautionary measure.
Asked whether schools might close early for Christmas, the PM’s spokesman said: “Certainly we do not think anyone should be closing schools early unless they have received advice from the local director of public health that it’s necessary on public health grounds.
“We wouldn’t want to see that happening routinely, just as a precaution, because as I’ve said, education is vital.
“And we’ve seen, sadly, because of the public health crisis, children have to miss face-to-face education. And so it’s very important that we maintain schooling as much as possible.”
When he announced Plan B measures on Wednesday 8 December, Boris Johnson urged parents not to pull their children out of school before Christmas.
Asked about whether festive parties and nativity plays should be cancelled, he replied: “No, in my view they should not.
“We don’t want kids to be taken out of school before the end of term, not that there’s a very long term to go now.”
What will happen after the Christmas holidays?
The NASUWT teaching union has urged the Government to stagger the return of pupils to schools in January amid concerns about the Omicron variant.
It called on Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to urgently announce additional measures for schools and colleges before the Christmas break to avoid a repeat of the “chaos” last year.
After the last Christmas holidays, the Prime Minister told parents on 3 January to send their primary-age children back to school.
But on the evening of the next day, he announced a national lockdown for England – with all schools closed to the majority of pupils.
Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, has said the Government needs to “make sure schools are kept open in January”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he could not guarantee schools would not close again due to the pandemic, while Mr Zahawi has acknowledged that he could not guarantee January all schools would be open everywhere in January.
Health minister Eluned Morgan said the Welsh Government is assessing whether schools would re-open in January after classes in Denbighshire and Anglesey moved online.
In a Government briefing, she said: “All of these issues will be assessed and reviewed, and we are already discussing what are the greatest risks and what we can control as a Government.”
Additional reporting from Press Association
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.