ALL primary schools in London will close for new term, Sadiq Khan announces as government abandons plan to keep some open
- The government initially tried to keep some primary schools open for new term
- But boroughs threatened legal action, fearing the safety of staff and pupils
- The pressure forced the latest U-turn, with all primary schools now closed
All primary schools in London will now close for the start of the new term after the government U-turned on its decision to keep some open despite rising Covid cases.
The government bowed to protests, legal pressure and scientific advice on New Year’s Day after it initially omitted a number of boroughs from the forced closures.
Gavin Williamson had released a list of primary schools in coronavirus ‘hotspots’ that would stay shut.
All primary schools in London will now close for the start of the new term after the government U-turned on its decision to keep some open despite rising Covid cases
The government bowed to protests, legal pressure and scientific advice on New Year’s Day after it initially omitted a number of boroughs from the forced closures
But the list did not include areas where Covid rates are high such as Haringey whose leaders said they would defy the government and support schools that decided to close.
The leaders of Camden, Islington, Greenwich, Haringey, Harrow, Hackney and Lewisham boroughs, and the City of London, said in a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson: ‘We ask in the strongest terms that your recommendation is urgently reviewed and our primary schools are added to the list of those advised to move learning online.’
The action prompted an emergency Cabinet Office meeting today where they decided to abandon the original plans and order the remaining area to close their primary schools, The Guardian reported.
Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan and party colleagues running the city’s councils had been pushing for all schools in London to shut
Sadiq Khan responded to the news, saying: ‘This is the right decision – and I want to thank education minister Nick Gibb for our constructive conversations over the past two days.’
The previous decision had left many baffled, with schools ordered to remain open just yards away from other schools forced to close.
Two schools in Islington, North London, had been given different advice about whether they could open or close despite being just 700 yards apart.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: ‘Just at the moment when we need some decisive leadership, the government is at sixes and sevens.
Gavin Williamson had released a list of primary schools in coronavirus ‘hotspots’ that would stay shut
‘The Government cannot expect to command public confidence with such a confusing and last-minute approach.’
Scientific advisers had warned that more school closures are necessary to control rising infections.
The Government’s Sage committee said it was ‘highly unlikely’ the pandemic could be managed effectively if schools were free to open next week.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
A businessman whose daughter attends a primary school in a Covid hotspot had blasted the ‘absurd’ decision to keep it open before the latest U-turn.
Stephen Cook was left baffled by the decision as his London council told head teachers to defy ministers and remain closed over the coming weeks.
Mr Cook, 55, who runs a building firm told MailOnline: ‘It’s all very confusing and totally absurd. But then you could say that we live in very confusing and absurd times.
‘None of it makes any sense because there are kids that come from the London Borough of Barnet to my daughter’s school and she also has friends from there. Haringey’s infection rate is higher than Barnet’s so why are not all schools in the area closing?;
Mr Cook lives with his family on Coppetts Road, a busy thoroughfare which divides the London Borough of Haringey on one side and Barnet on the other.
He said: ‘Kids who live in the borough of Barnet attend Coldfall and Haringey kids go to Coppetts Wood. And when they are out and about in local parks, they are constantly mixing and playing.
Stephen Cook and daughter Holly have been left baffled by the initial decision as his London council has told head teachers to defy ministers and stay closed over the coming weeks
‘We are in an incredibly difficult situation and I’m glad that I’m not in charge, but we need greater clarity because a lot of people don’t understand what’s going on.
‘I live in a Covid hotspot but if I cross the road, I’m in the London Borough of Barnet so why is there not more consistency?’
According to the Government’s latest figures, in the week leading up to December 25, Haringey registered 2,120 cases of coronavirus with infections running at 789.14 per 100,000.
For the same period, Barnet registered 2,751 with infections running at 694.13 per 100,000.
Haringey councillor Joseph Ejiofor wrote to head teachers outlining the fact the area’s Covid case rate is higher than the London average and that officials weren’t consulted before the decision was made.
The previous decision had left many baffled, with schools ordered to remain open just yards away from other schools forced to close
He wrote: ‘We are part of the same integrated care system as two boroughs where primaries have been told to stay closed (Barnet and Enfield) and the North Middlesex, a hospital under significant pressure, serves the populations of both Haringey and Enfield.
‘We believe that all primary schools in Haringey should therefore open only to the children of key workers and vulnerable children next week and we will support all our schools in this approach.’
Jenny Batt, Lib Dem councillor for Worcester Park in Sutton, south-west London, said local people were ‘confused and worried’ about what was going on and did not understand how officials were reaching their decisions.
‘They don’t understand what the criteria is,’ she told BBC London. ‘I’ve got residents who live in Sutton whose children go to a Kingston school and are told that it is safe.
‘And then they’ve got their neighbours’ children who can’t go to school because theirs isn’t safe.’
Secondaries also face an anxious wait to find out whether they will be able to reopen fully on the new target date of January 18.
The Department for Education is racing to put a mass testing system in place, but has warned the curbs could need to be even wider than for primaries as older children are more likely to spread the disease. The situation is not expected to become clear until the next review date of January 13.
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