'Government using old stats on schools opening decision,' leader claims

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Ar

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald - Credit: Archant

The government had out-of-date figures when it told schools to stay open until the end of term, the borough's leader has claimed.

On Monday, Islington Council advised schools around the borough to move to online learning by the end of Tuesday in a bid to curb a spike in coronavirus cases.

This would have seen schools close just two days earlier than planned.

However, "after discussion" with the Department for Education (DfE), the council told schools to stay open until at least Wednesday.

READ MORE: Islington U-turns on school closing advice after government 'discussion'

Cllr Richard Watts, Islington Council's leader, has said the DfE had a week-old data, whereas the borough's statistics showed a more urgent picture. 

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There was a 34 per cent increase in Islington's Covid-19 cases from December 7 to 14; a 68pc rise from December 8 to 15; and an 83pc rise from December 9 to 16. 

A DfE spokesperson told this newspaper the decision to keep schools open was not based on figures relating to local tiers because schooling is a "national priority".

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"We wanted to do as much as possible to control the exponential [increase] of the virus," Cllr Watts said. 

"We were genuinely trying to do the right thing ahead of an emergency, [tackling] problems rather than reacting to them."

He described the situation as "frustrating", saying: "It would have stopped pupils, parents and school staff getting the virus in and around school and passing it onto their family bubbles around Christmas."

Cllr Watts said the "discussion" with the government was an apolitical meeting, but described the loosening of restrictions as "rash" and urged residents to be careful.

"I understand people's desire to see lots of family members and it's human for the government to want to facilitate that but I can't help but think we will pay a heavy price in January/February."

He praised schools for doing a "brilliant job" through the pandemic.

Greenwich Council was also warned that it must keep schools open or face legal action.

A DfE spokesperson said: "Children’s education is a national priority and this government has acted in the interest of children since the start of the pandemic.

"Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted and our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues."

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