Call for data on 'astonishing' primary closure decision

Union calls for clarification alongside demands from Greenwich and Islington councils over how contingency decisions were made
31st December 2020, 12:59pm
Amy Gibbons

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Call for data on 'astonishing' primary closure decision

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/call-data-astonishing-primary-closure-decision
School Closures

The government is facing mounting pressure to reveal how it decided which areas should keep primaries closed to the majority of pupils from next week.

The leader of Greenwich council has written a letter to the education secretary saying that he wanted to "express in the strongest possible terms" his "complete astonishment" at the decision announced yesterday, adding the "rationale" behind imposing restrictions in certain London boroughs and not others is "simply not clear at all."

And Islington council has also issued a statement to say it is seeking urgent clarification from the government about why its primary schools are to reopen in the week of 4 January, while those in many other London boroughs will not.


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The backlash comes after the government yesterday revealed the Covid hostpot areas where primary schools will remain closed for at least two weeks from Monday.

The areas with delayed primary openings include parts of London, Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

But some London boroughs hit particularly hard by the virus, including Greenwich and Islington, have not been included on the list.

In his letter to Gavin Williamson, Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe called on the education secretary to explain the rationale behind the decision.

He wrote: "I understand that a ministerial call with MPs followed your statement and it was suggested that the three criteria used to inform your decision were as follows: 

  1. Rates of infection.
  2. Hospital capacity.
  3. Speed of transmission.

"A number of boroughs which are having their primary schools closed within London have both lower infection rates and lower positivity rates than we do in Greenwich. This information is verifiable by Public Health England. Therefore, what is the threshold you are using for a rate of infection measure and what data are you using to make these decisions?"

Mr Thorpe also called on Mr Williamson to specify what measurements have been used to determine hospital capacity, and what data is held around speed of transmission.

In a statement issued on its website, Richard Watts, leader of Islington council said: "We are now seeking urgent clarification from the government about why Islington's primary schools are to reopen in the week of 4 January, while those in many other London boroughs will not reopen. 

"It is deeply frustrating that the government has made this announcement at the last minute, just days before the start of term, weeks after it was clear coronavirus cases were surging in London. 

"It also comes just two weeks after the government threatened schools with legal action after some councils, including Islington, advised schools to delay reopening after January, following public health advice over surging coronavirus cases.

"It's vital that everything is done to urgently tackle the surging coronavirus cases, to keep everyone in our community safe at this dangerous time."

And the NAHT school leaders' union has called on the government to answer the 'huge amount of concern' over why some schools in tier 4 areas will remain open, while others will be closed.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: "The government has not shared the rationale behind its decision to close some schools and not others, or explained why primaries and special schools are being treated differently to secondaries. There is obviously a huge amount of concern over how it can be safe for schools in some tier 4 areas to open while schools in other tier 4 areas are being told to move to remote learning.

"In some instances, this means different approaches for schools only a few roads away from each other. For some schools, the government's current guidance amounts to little more than 'keep calm and carry on' which is just not good enough when local infection rates and hospital admissions are soaring.

"We need to see much more transparency and honesty from the government. We will be formally asking government how it arrived at its decision over which areas should close schools, and how it justifies that."

Responding to yesterday's announcement that primary schools in areas particularly badly affected by the virus will provide face-to-face education for vulnerable children and children of key works only for at least two weeks from Monday, the Association of School and College Leaders said: "The government needs to urgently explain why it considers the full resumption of primary education to be safe in most areas despite alarming infection rates."

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

Letter from Greenwich council leader to Gavin Williamson:

Greenwich council letter (page one)

Greenwich council letter (page two)

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