DfE orders council to back down and keep schools open

Williamson issues direction to Greenwich after it asked schools to close from tomorrow because of Covid surge. Council says it is too late
14th December 2020, 8:14pm
John Roberts

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DfE orders council to back down and keep schools open

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/dfe-orders-council-back-down-and-keep-schools-open
Gavin Williamson Has Issued A Legal Direction Ordering A Council To Back Down Over Plans To Close Schools Early This Week Over Covid Concerns.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has issued a legal order forcing Greenwich council to back down over plans for all schools in the area to close for Christmas over Covid concerns from today.

But the authority has hit back, saying the intervention has come too late to keep schools open tomorrow, and says it is taking legal advice.  

Mr Williamson issued the temporary continuity direction tonight to the Royal Borough of Greenwich Council, following a letter sent by the authority to headteachers yesterday.


Read: 'There will be a reckoning for DfE's bully boy tactics'

Related: Close schools early, says third London council

Politics: Starmer urges leaders to try to keep schools open


The council's leader, Danny Thorpe, had asked schools to close to all but vulnerable pupils and children of key workers, and move to online learning because of an "exponential" rise in Covid cases.

The Department for Education has now ordered the council to immediately withdraw the letter, which had asked schools to close their premises after today.

The direction says this letter, and an open letter sent to parents across Royal Greenwich, must be withdrawn by 10am tomorrow morning.

But tonight, Cllr Thorpe warned that some Greenwich schools would still be closing early for Christmas tomorrow. 

"Schools across the borough have now organised online learning from tomorrow, while others are opening their premises to all pupils," he said. "We are in the process of seeking legal advice and will respond to the government in the morning.  

"We have alerted schools and will speak to them tomorrow. But given we received this notification just before 5pm, it was impossible to ask schools to change any of the arrangements they have in place for Tuesday." 

The DfE has said that if the council does not comply, the Coronavirus Act provides for the education secretary to enforce the direction by applying to the High Court or the county court for an injunction ordering it to do so.

The government had previously raised the prospect of using legal action to prevent schools from closing early over Covid concerns.

Mr Willamson said: "It is simply not in children's best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors. 

"Schools and colleges up and down the country, in all tiers, have shown incredible resilience in the face of this pandemic - and it's down to the hard work of teachers and staff that millions of children and young people have been able to benefit from a face-to-face education and be with their friends.

"I have always been clear that using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority. That's why I won't hesitate to do what is right for young people and have issued a direction to Greenwich Council setting out that they must withdraw the letter issued to headteachers on Sunday.

"The Regional Schools Commissioner will continue to work closely with Greenwich Council and schools in the borough, as we have done with schools across the country, to support them with any operational challenges they face and ensure children can continue to receive face-to-face education."

The direction comes as a headteachers' leader has railed against what he called the DfE's "bully boy tactics" in forcing schools to stay open.

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