DfE slammed for refusal to reveal school Covid closures

NEU says department has 'no excuse' for withholding information on number of schools closing early and going online owing to the virus
11th December 2020, 7:00pm
Claudia Civinini

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DfE slammed for refusal to reveal school Covid closures

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/dfe-slammed-refusal-reveal-school-covid-closures
Schools Closing Early For Christmas

The Department for Education has refused to say how many schools are planning to close early and move online owing to Covid disruption.

The DfE has told Tes it has information on how many schools are closing earlier in the run-up to Christmas. But, when asked to disclose numbers, the Department did not provide an answer, nor did it explain why it wouldn't.

The NEU teaching union said tonight that the DfE had "no excuse for withholding the information".


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The DfE's refusal to disclose this information follows its decision in October to stop publishing data on the number of schools partly closed because of coronavirus. 

Cases of schools deciding to move learning online in the run-up to the Christmas holidays in response to rising Covid cases are starting to appear in the local press.

In Essex, Beauchamp High School in Wickford closed on 7 December. A letter sent to parents reveals the impact of Covid on the school, with over 30 teachers self-isolating until 18 December.

In Kent, another Covid hotspot in the South East - and another area targeted for rapid Covid testing - there are reports of three schools closing their doors and moving online.

Tes understands that the DfE is aware that some schools are facing "operational difficulties". But it is unwilling to provide any kind of national picture.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, told Tes: "A questionnaire is completed by schools every day, so it simply isn't credible that the DfE is unaware of the present situation.

"This government has been persistently behind the curve throughout Covid, but on this point, they really have no excuse for withholding the information."  

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "While the government has refused to give schools the flexibility to move to remote education during the final week of the autumn term, there will be some schools that have to close early for classroom teaching for operational reasons because there are large numbers of staff and pupils who have to self-isolate.

"It is the inevitable consequence of the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and that safety protocols are predicated on tracing and isolating any contacts of positive Covid cases."

Dr Bousted insisted that schools must be allowed to make decisions according to their local context.

"Schools must be allowed to make their own judgement as to what is best for the safety of pupils and staff, as we approach the end of term and case counts remain high - and rising - in many parts of the country," she said.

"But the Department for Education has deliberately and very publicly shot down any school leader who has attempted to do what is right.

"The NEU continues to believe that the Department should signal to schools that they can shut their sites next week and move to online learning. Perhaps then we might slow the rise in cases instead of waiting for Gavin Williamson to accept that the inevitable is unavoidable."

A DfE spokesperson said: "It is a national priority to keep education settings open full-time and it is vital that children remain in school until the end of the term.

"Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted and our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues."

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