Teacher shortages are fuelling campaigns for all schools to finish term early, as figures show the number of schools fully closed under the coronavirus pandemic has more than doubled in a week.
The rise is “driven by an increase in the number of schools closed for Covid-19 reasons”, according to the Department for Education's latest report on school attendance.
Despite the doubling in school closures, the DfE remains firm that keeping schools open until the very end of term is a priority.
However, a parliamentary petition to “save Christmas” by allowing schools to move to online learning from 9 December has increased its signatures from 20,000 to 114,000 in the past 10 days.
And a separate parliamentary petition calling on the government to reclose schools and colleges in order to “protect teachers and pupils and their families” has climbed from 280,000 signatures to more than 415,000 this month.
Meanwhile, parents have taken to Twitter to express anger at local school closures caused by teacher shortages.
@Michellethomp1 said today: “Just got an email from my kids' school. It's closing for two weeks due to Covid-related staff shortages. They basically have no staff to operate safely. This is a large secondary school with nearly 1,400 kids. Why is no one mentioning the schools in the media?”
And Twitter user @Theresa_50 said it would be “madness” if teachers weren't first in line for the vaccine, stating: “15-year-old nephew, middle of GCSE mocks, is on second round of self-isolation due to outbreaks at school. Four weeks out of first term of Year 11. After being out of school for four months spring/summer. If teachers aren't first in line for vaccine after medical and care staff, it'd be madness.”
@CherylBeech82 said: “Whereas my son's college will be closing for two weeks as of 10 December and moving to remote learning, Google classrooms etc to reduce numbers and infections before Christmas. Why can't schools do the same?”
Headteachers warned today of "mass disobedience" from schools if they are forced to stay open until the end of term, which they say could mean pupils and teachers end up being asked to self-isolate over Christmas.
Latest DfE figures show that 1 per cent of schools were closed on 19 November – up from 0.4 per cent the week before. Based on a total of 24,360 schools in England, this represents an increase from 97 schools to 243 schools.
However, the DfE says that data is based only on the 80 per cent of state-funded schools that respond to its survey each week and therefore is an estimate.
A Government spokesperson said there were no plans to allow schools to break up for Christmas early, adding: “The Chief Medical Officer remains of the view that schools should remain open, and has highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children’s learning, development and mental health."