School closures U-turn - No London primaries to open

London mayor welcomes change that will see blanket policy in capital – closing all primaries to most pupils from Monday.
1st January 2021, 7:18pm
William Stewart


School closures U-turn - No London primaries to open
School Closures U-turn - No London Primaries To Open

All primaries in London will be closed to most pupils at the start of term, following another Department for Education U-turn.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan confirmed the news in a tweet this evening. 

"The government have finally seen sense and U-turned," he said "All primary schools across London will be treated the same.

"This is the right decision - and I want to thank education minister Nick Gibb for our constructive conversations over the past two days."

But in an explanation of its latest U-turn on school Covid closures - that will see all London primaries move online from Monday - the Department for Education says the issue is not about safety in schools, but about the virus "in the community".

DfE: London U-turn NOT about school safety concerns

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In full: New delayed January school opening dates

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In a statement tonight, the Department for Education said: "In light of Covid case rates rising rapidly across the capital and ongoing engagement with London leaders and the evidence submitted, the government has reviewed the London boroughs where the contingency framework will apply, with all further boroughs added.

"The contingency framework is being implemented across London as a last resort to help suppress the spread of the virus in the community, protect public health and save lives.

"The framework is not being implemented due to safety concerns in education. Schools have well established protective measures in place to maximise safety for pupils and staff and help reduce the risk of transmission.

"Decisions on which areas are subject to the contingency framework are taken working closely with Public Health England, Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS.

"Due to the fast moving situation, and where local conditions are changing rapidly, the review of London boroughs was brought forward for a decision today as part of the contingency framework process."

Under the government's initial primary closure plan announced on Wednesday, schools in just 22 of London's 32 boroughs would have remained closed.

Redbridge was added later that night. This evening the City of London was added, together with the nine remaining boroughs: Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Harrow, Islington, Kingston upon Thames, Lambeth and Lewisham.

The U-turn comes after leaders of eight London boroughs wrote to education secretary Gavin Williamson formally asking him to reverse the decision to reopen primary schools in selected areas.

In the letter, the leaders said they were "struggling to understand the rationale" behind a move that ignored "the interconnectedness of our city".

They pointed out that Covid-19 infection rates were higher in some boroughs told to reopen schools than in others where schools were to remain shut.

The leaders of the boroughs of Islington, Camden, Hackney, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Haringey and Harrow all signed the letter.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the announcement should apply to the rest of the country as well.

"It is welcome that, albeit in their usual last-minute fashion, ministers have corrected an obviously nonsensical position - one that it could not justify by evidence or sense," she said.

"But 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 1.

"It is time for the government to protect its citizens, and in particular its children, by shutting all primary schools for two weeks in order for the situation to be properly assessed, schools made much safer and children and their families protected."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "Just at the moment when we need some decisive leadership, the government is at sixes and sevens."

He added: "The government cannot expect to command public confidence with such a confusing and last-minute approach."


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