An academy trust serving areas of the North of England that have been hard hit by Covid-19 has announced that its schools will be breaking up for Christmas a week early to safeguard staff and pupils and “protect precious family time together”.
The Focus Trust said it has taken the decision because of growing concern that staff and pupils would be forced to self-isolate during the traditional two-week holiday period as coronavirus cases in some of its communities were growing “significantly.”
It warned that it had already had to close "bubble groups" in 13 of its 15 primary schools and had more than a quarter of its pupils and a third of its staff self-isolating.
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The move will mean that all the trust's primary academies in the North West and West Yorkshire will close their doors after school on 11 December, with additional learning days being added later in the year.
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According to a BBC report, the Department for Education has asked the trust to review this arrangement.
Focus Trust chief executive Helen Rowland said: “Our priority is always to safeguard the mental and physical health and wellbeing of our children and our staff, and every decision we make is with their best interests, and those of our local communities, in mind.
“Since our schools reopened to all pupils in September, we have followed the government guidelines, which stipulate that bubble groups should isolate for a period of two weeks if exposed to, and at risk of spreading, the virus.
“Despite our robust Covid-secure arrangements and close working with HSE [the Health and Safety Executive]/Public Health [England], since September, we’ve had to close bubbles in 13 of our 15 schools, meaning that 1,740 children, and 375 staff have had to self-isolate – that’s 28 per cent of our children and 38 per cent of our staff.”
She said that this week a single-form-entry school that had previously had no cases now has 90 children and 10 staff isolating – "almost half the school".
The trust runs primary schools in the North West and Yorkshire, including in Oldham, Bradford and Kirklees.
Ms Rowland added: “We recognise the short notice may be an issue for some families but we hope that by taking the proactive and practical approach of extending the break, we can ensure that no one is forced to self-isolate over the holiday because of someone they have come into contact with at school.
“The time will be made up later in the school year when it is safe and practical to do so, and families will be informed of the new dates as soon as possible.’’
The move comes as a petition calling for schools to move lessons online two weeks before Christmas has attracted 20,000 signatures.