Primary schools to remain closed after government U-turn

An exam in progress.

An exam in progress. - Credit: PA/David Davies

All London primary schools will remain shut next week, as the capital battles with high levels of coronavirus infections.

It is expected online learning will be offered in most areas, with school facilities open only to vulnerable pupils and children of key-workers.

The government previously published a list of boroughs where primary school reopening would be delayed. 

Local authority leaders - including those of Camden, Hackney, Haringey and Islington - had signed a letter to the government, challenging their boroughs' omissions from the list.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the decision now to close all London primary schools had been a “last resort”.

Following the U-turn, Islington leader Cllr Richard Watts said: “It’s absolutely right that Islington primary schools will move to online learning from next week, to help tackle the spread of this very dangerous disease.  

"We will do everything we can to support Islington’s schools, head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and support staff as they make new arrangements over the weekend.

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“However it’s unacceptable that the government has waited until Friday night on New Year’s Day, with just a weekend before pupils were due to go back, to make a decision that should have been made weeks ago, as the public health situation became clear.

“The government has taken the right decision only after previously threatening schools with legal action if they did not reopen in January, after Islington and other councils advised last month that this had to be done, following public health advice."

Hackney mayor Philip Glanville tweeted: "So a victory in a battle we should have never had to fight. Govt's climbdown today on primary schools is welcome news for heads, teachers & staff across Hackney. I know it will be disruptive, but a huge relief to so many parents, carers & children. There clearly was no rationale."

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The government’s original decision was ridiculous and has been causing immense confusion for parents, teachers and staff across the capital.

“It is right that all schools in London are treated the same, and that no primary schools in London will be forced to open on Monday."

He added: “No one wants our children out of schools longer than necessary. Everybody must now focus on bearing down on the virus so that our schools can reopen safely as soon as possible.”

Secondary schools and colleges are already set to be closed to most pupils for the first two weeks of January.

On the reversal of the primary school proposals, cabinet minister Mr Williamson said: “Moving further parts of London to remote education really is a last resort and a temporary solution.

“As infection rates rise across the country, and particularly in London, we must make this move to protect our country and the NHS.

“We will continue keep the list of local authorities under review, and reopen classrooms as soon as we possibly can.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The Government cannot expect to command public confidence with such a confusing and last-minute approach.”