England’s schools system is in meltdown today after schools revolted against Boris Johnson’s plea to stay open leaving millions of parents to begin homeschooling their children for at least a fortnight with often only a few hours’ notice.
Many headteachers ordered to stay open have decided to shut their gates anyway this morning despite the Prime Minister’s insistence that ‘schools are safe’ as all of Britain’s teaching unions called for classroom teaching to be ‘paused’ until teachers are vaccinated.
The decision will consign children to ‘sub-standard’ online learning experts say can ‘set back’ children years, especially those from working class families while Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned schools not to ‘furlough’ children by shutting down again.
Parents took to social media this morning describing their anxiety at trying to care for their children at home at the 11th hour while trying to hold down a full time job with many slamming the decision by schools to close unilaterally ‘staggering’.
Northfield St Nicholas Primary Academy in Lowestoft, Suffolk, announced it was closing on Facebook with parent Rebecca Kane venting: ‘Nice finding this out via a friend at 8.30pm…. no email or text to let us know. CAN’T say I’m surprised.’
Other parents said they are fearful for their children because for many homeschooling in the first lockdown last year amounted to ‘here do your times tables’ and ‘no actual teaching’.
All schools in London are closed today along with the majority of Covid-19 hotspots in Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire after a Department for Education diktat last week.
But headteachers told to remain open in areas such as in Surrey, Gloucestershire, Newcastle, Norfolk, Liverpool, County Durham, West Sussex, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Leeds and Lancashire have shut down anyway.
The Prime Minister told families yesterday that children should return to school in all areas where they were due to open today and tomorrow. But as Covid-19 rates soar, teaching unions said that a ‘snowball effect’ was shutting scores of schools despite the official advice to stay open.
Boris Johnson said yesterday that he had ‘no doubt’ that classrooms were safe but many headteachers have ignored him and closed anyway
Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, (pictured together) and runs a social media consultancy from her Tier 4 home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. She says: ‘As a self-employed single parent trying to maintain a business that was decimated at the start of lockdown, school is a lifeline for me’. Ella Brucher, 35, a self-employed cleaner, has two children, Scarlet, six, and Dominic, ten, (pictured together) in Purley which is in Tier 4. Ms Brucher said: ‘After not being able to work at all for three months earlier in the year, it’s very difficult – and more than that, it’s hard for the children, too. They want to be back at school.’
Official figures show there had been a further 54,990 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, up 80 per cent from last week’s case figure of 30,501, while the number of deaths had increased by 43 per cent from last Sunday to 454
PM refuses to rule out cancelling exams
Boris Johnson has refused to rule out cancelling GCSE and A-Level exams this year.
Asked about the possibility, the PM said: ‘We’ve got to be realistic, we’ve got to be realistic about the pace of which this new variant has spread…
‘We’ve got to be realistic about the impact that it’s having on our NHS… and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’
One mother said she finds it ‘staggering’ that her child’s primary school will not be opening on Tuesday, and said she wants the school listening to scientists rather than unions.
The woman, who does not want to be named, received an email from the headteacher of Anlaby Primary School in East Yorkshire on Sunday afternoon advising that pupils should not come back to school on Tuesday.
She told Hull Live that online home learning is ‘not good enough’, adding: ‘I find it staggering how the school is choosing not to take government advice – I am really not bothered about what their union thinks.
‘I take my advice from the government scientists who are saying it’s safe for children to return to school and so should the school.
‘There was no teaching it was just ‘here do your times tables’ and there was no actual teaching, which created massive amounts of stress in the household as I not only had to teach my child, but I had to work as well.’
Childminder Juliet Voisey wrote online: ‘More notice is required. I am a self-employed childminder. I haven’t applied for the grant from the government for this period as I am due to open next week. There’s a deadline to apply for the grant.’
‘If the government do a sudden U-turn and the deadline is passed for the grant I’m then out of pocket. I don’t want to claim money if I’m able to work.’
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough urged Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to keep all primary schools in the county closed, saying it is ‘very hard to justify’ letting some schools open while others are closed.
Primary school pupils in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are expected to return on Monday while the other districts in Kent will learn remotely for the first two weeks of term.
Yesterday council leaders in Cumbria, Brighton, Birmingham and Wolverhampton all formally requested permission for schools in their area to stay shut.
While it waits to hear back from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Brighton and Hove City Council has advised all primary heads to shut their schools, apart from for vulnerable children and those of key workers, and to move learning online.
Labour MP says sorry to minister over jab ‘queue-jumping’ claim
A Labour shadow health spokesman has issued a grovelling apology for falsely suggesting the vaccine minister had jumped the queue to get a jab.
Rosena Allin-Khan admitted it had been ‘inappropriate and wrong’ to share unverified claims about Nadhim Zahawi.
The Labour frontbencher had posted on Twitter that she had heard ‘rumours’ the Tory minister and his family had been vaccinated in Wandsworth, south-west London. But after it transpired the rumour was untrue, Dr Allin-Khan was reprimanded by the Labour Party, ordered to remove her claims and told to apologise. She tweeted: ‘I have deleted my earlier tweets which were inappropriate and wrong. I regret sharing unsubstantiated claims about the minister and I apologise to him and his family.’
Mr Zahawi, who is overseeing the vaccine rollout, then replied: ‘Thank you for apologising. The accusation was not true. It is sad you chose to act like this, we all need to work together to beat this awful disease.’
In Southampton the city council warned that some schools ‘do not have enough staff to reopen safely to all children’, while Slough Borough Council said some primaries would stay closed amid ‘confusion across the board’ caused by the Department for Education.
A headteacher in Berkshire has told parents not to send their children to school tomorrow amid soaring cases of the more-infectious Covid variant – despite assurances from Boris Johnson that schools are ‘safe’.
Slough headteacher Gil Denham said she can’t ‘guarantee that pupils or staff will not be exposed to the virus’ if they return on Monday and parents should only send their children in if they feel the risk is not ‘too high’.
Most primaries in England are expected to re-open their doors tomorrow, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with a weekly-testing scheme.
But in a series of embarrassing blows to Gavin Williamson’s plans, councils across the country are defying Government orders and demanding their primaries continue to teach remotely as the new Covid mutation wreaks havoc.
Britain today recorded a further 54,990 coronavirus cases in 24 hours – marking the sixth day in a row that daily infections exceeded 50,000.
Cumbria, Brighton, Kent, Birmingham and Wolverhampton have asked the Department for Education for permission to keep primaries closed tomorrow, demanding learning be delivered remotely.
In the mean time, Brighton and Hove City Council has ordered primary schools in the area to shut, while several schools in Wolverhampton, Derbyshire, Merseyside and Nottinghamshire have also refused to open.
And yesterday afternoon, Essex County Council ordered all schools in the only three districts earmarked by the Government for reopening to move to online learning only.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said school closures should be kept to the ‘absolute minimum’ as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urges teachers and parents to ‘move heaven and earth’, adding the young must not ‘bear the heaviest cost’ of the pandemic
Tony Blair: ‘Step change’ in vaccines is the only way to save schools
Tony Blair urged the government to target five million vaccinations a week – saying it was hard to see how schools could stay open otherwise.
The former PM told Times Radio: ‘If I was the prime minister right now I would be saying to the team in Downing Street, ‘I need you to give me a plan to get this up to five million (vaccinations) a week’.
‘Provided we’ve got the vaccine available and we should have them available. I mean AstraZeneca will, not this week or next week but the week after, be able to get up to two million doses a week, that’s just AstraZeneca.
‘They could probably do more if they knew that the system was capable of absorbing the amount of vaccines that they would produce.
‘You should get clearance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of January, that’s when they complete their trials and then we should be able to get that on stream as well in February.’
Mr Blair said a ‘step change’ in the vaccination programme was the only real prospect of keeping children in schools.
He said: ‘On the one hand, it’s a disaster for school children, particularly poorest school children if they’re not getting educated.
‘But it’s also completely understandable that teachers and parents say, not because they think their children… the risk to children is very, very small, it’s the risk to transmission rates and it’s the risk to teachers and parents, and therefore to those that their parents mix with.
‘So for all of those reasons, it just emphasises yet again why it’s so important to get vaccination under way.’
Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford have been told to open classrooms on Monday – but the council has now written to Mr Williamson demanding ‘urgent clarity’ over whether they should still do so as infections continue to soar.
Ms Denham – headteacher of the Marish Academy Trust which operates two primary schools in Slough – wrote a letter to parents saying they can keep their children at home if they feel it is safer, Berkshire Live reports.
The letter read: ‘As a parent and grandparent myself, if I feel that the risk of my child or someone else in my family contracting Covid-19 is too high, if they attend school from Monday, I would keep them at home.
‘It may be that this is the decision some of you come to for your own families.’
She stressed that online teaching will be available to parents who refuse to send their children in.
She added: ‘Neither I, or any other school leader in Slough can guarantee that pupils or staff will not be exposed to the virus in school or on the way to or from school, when our experience has already shown us that Covid-19 can easily spread through a community.’
Slough Borough Council later said it will allow individual schools to make the call about whether or not to open.
Norfolk, Greater Manchester and Southampton have also allowed schools to make their own decisions about sending pupils back.
Their defiance came as the Prime Minister today told parents that it was ‘safe to send their children back but refused to rule out a full shutdown to control the mutant coronavirus strain – as Keir Starmer demanded a new national lockdown within 24 hours.
Now nearly a third of the country – some 17million people – are living in areas where primaries have been told to close by the Government, or where councils have said they will back heads who decide to close their gates. Despite the unfolding chaos, Mr Johnson said yesterday that he had ‘no doubt’ that classrooms were safe. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that.
‘The risk to kids, to young people is really very, very small indeed. The risk to staff is very small.’
He added: ‘I understand people’s frustrations, I understand people’s anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his plans were insufficient and it was ‘inevitable’ many would stay closed today.
The unofficial closures came after Britain’s biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, called an online meeting attended by 400,000 teachers and supporters where they were told to ‘say no’ to reopenings.
A headteacher in Berkshire has told parents not to send their children to school tomorrow amid soaring cases of the more-infectious Covid variant despite assurances from Boris Johnson that schools are ‘safe’ (file image)
Boris Johnson said schools that are due to be open will be safe for pupils and teachers due to the procedures in place
Advice for pupils heading to school in Islington before it became one of the London boroughs to switch to home learning
Kevin Courtney, its joint general secretary, told teachers who dialled in that they should protest against returning to school – and that this could lead to a ‘snowball effect’. Within hours, the message appeared to be having an effect.
By last night, many schools had made the decision not to open, despite being outside the Government’s ‘contingency framework’, which mandates closures, with some citing union advice. The Daily Mail has learned of many schools being forced into 11th-hour decisions in the face of staff shortages. For example, Lea Community Primary School, in Preston, said that ‘due to health and safety, a rising increase in transmission and infection rates… and following advice of unions’ it was unsafe for it to open.
And St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, in Birmingham also said ‘insufficient staff’ was the reason behind its decision to close. All classes would be taught via ‘live’ lessons delivered online instead.
Bedford Primary School, in Bootle, Merseyside, said it would be shut to pupils, apart from those of key workers, for at least a week ‘due to reduced staffing ratios.’
Salford mayor Paul Dennett wrote to Mr Williamson last night saying he wanted face-to-face learning to be looked at again. He said he would ‘support any Salford school leader who assesses that it is not safe to open their school’.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Williamson gave no indication he was considering widening school closures. ‘The safety of teachers and pupils will always be paramount, but we must all move heaven and earth to get children back to the classroom where they best thrive,’ he wrote.
I RUN A BUSINESS – AND HELP MY SON
Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, (pictured together) and runs a social media consultancy from her Tier 4 home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. She says: ‘As a self-employed single parent trying to maintain a business that was decimated at the start of lockdown, school is a lifeline for me’
Rachel Allen, 40, is a single mother to Lewis, seven, and runs a social media consultancy from her home in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Her area is in Tier Four, with latest data showing a new case rate of 739 per 100,000 in the week to December 28.
She says: ‘As a self-employed single parent trying to maintain a business that was decimated at the start of lockdown, school is a lifeline for me. It gives me the space to concentrate on maintaining an income, while Lewis can be in the classroom with friends getting the education he needs.
‘I don’t qualify for any support and I don’t have any savings to fall back on so I have to keep the business running and fit that around providing some kind of education for my son, who is in Year Three.
‘As the first lockdown started… my existing business was almost annihilated overnight. Thankfully I was able to hold on, but I must have dropped £10,000 this year and to say that it has been a hard slog would be an understatement – there have been times where I have felt like my head was in a pressure cooker.
‘Despite that, we came up with our routine: fitting my work around gaps to help Lewis with his work, and then I picked up an NHS contract which meant I was a key worker and he could go back to school in June. But now it’s back to home school.
‘I’m very fortunate that Lewis’s dad lives nearby and is very helpful and involved. When the schools closed last time, we took it in turns taking Lewis and we will do the same again this time, but both he and his partner work full-time too.
‘Luckily, Lewis is very adaptable and takes everything in his stride, but I do worry about how all this will impact him long term. Obviously I don’t want my son’s education to suffer, but I have to prepare myself for the fact that it probably will.
‘As a single parent, and a self-employed one at that, we are resilient – I simply have to knuckle down and get on with it.’
THE KIDS WANT TO RETURN TO LESSONS
Ella Brucher, 35, a self-employed cleaner, has two children, Scarlet, six, and Dominic, ten, (pictured together) in Purley which is in Tier 4. Ms Brucher said: ‘After not being able to work at all for three months earlier in the year, it’s very difficult – and more than that, it’s hard for the children, too. They want to be back at school.’
Ella Brucher, 35, a self-employed cleaner, has two children, Scarlet, six, and Dominic, ten, with her husband, Nicholas, 40, a company director. They live in Purley, near Croydon in south London, which is in Tier Four and has a case rate of 835.5 per 100,000 residents:
‘Having taken time off for the Christmas holidays, I was expecting to go back to work this week. But Wednesday evening’s announcement has changed all that.
‘After not being able to work at all for three months earlier in the year, it’s very difficult – and more than that, it’s hard for the children, too.
‘They want to be back at school, they miss being able to socialise – and with not being able to meet friends outside of school, the classroom was the only place they got that important interaction.
‘My son plays computer games and talks with friends over headphones, he has his lessons, he is sensible and can work on his own, but he’s missing interaction with the teacher that he can only get at school, and this is his last year of primary school.
‘It’s very hard for my little girl, she has missed half of Year One and refused to do any home learning – and now here we are again.
‘I think the impact of this will be felt for years to come.
‘As for me, I would have been working for five days, but now I’m going to have to fit as much as I can into two days so that I can be there to look after the children and support them with their schoolwork.
‘I will have to let some of my clients down. I’m just thankful that those who have children and are in the same position will understand.
‘My husband has been able to keep working from home, but he has to go into work one to two days a week, so we simply have no choice.
‘I just hope that in two weeks they will be able to go back.’
Will exams be scrapped AGAIN this summer?
Boris Johnson has refused to rule out cancelling exams this summer after headteachers called for them to scrapped.
The Prime Minister has come under pressure to axe GCSEs and A-Levels because so many children have missed out on schooling since the pandemic began.
Secondary schools have been ordered to close for the first two weeks of term to suppress Covid – particularly the new, faster-spreading variant – and there are fears the shutdown could last until February.
Headteachers have warned of huge inequality in the system, with some pupils left to face the summer exams less prepared than others. Asked yesterday on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 whether exams should be cancelled, the Prime Minister declined to rule the idea out, adding: ‘We’ve got to be realistic about the pace at which this new variant has spread, we’ve got to be realistic about the impact it’s having on our NHS, and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’
No exams took place last summer, with GSCE and A-level grades based on teacher assessments.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insists national exams must go ahead this summer, even though Scotland and Wales have abandoned them.
PM’s vow to cut ‘absurd’ red tape thwarting vaccination volunteers
The Prime Minister has ordered the removal of ‘absurd’ red tape putting off former health workers from signing up as vaccination volunteers.
Health chiefs are recruiting an army of helpers to ramp up vaccination levels.
But retired doctors and nurses who applied were told to produce 21 documents, including proof they had been on courses to combat racism and terrorism. They also had to prove they had competence in fire safety, conflict resolution, human rights and data security.
They branded the system ‘ridiculous’ and ‘impossible’, while doctors’ leaders demanded a rethink.
Boris Johnson said ministers planned to simplify the process, adding: ‘It’s absurd. The Health Secretary is taking steps to get rid of that pointless bureaucracy.’
But former education secretary Lord Baker told The Sunday Times that teachers should be allowed to grade their students instead.
He said teachers should take into account the number of days missed, adding: ‘They are better than algorithms and they are the only people who can possibly assess the achievement of their students in this extraordinary time.’
More than 2,000 headteachers from the campaign group WorthLess? insist health should not be put at risk simply to protect exam timetables. They added: ‘Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations. Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-Levels.’
One of its leaders, Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex, told The Sunday Times there was ‘great scepticism that exams can go ahead fairly’.
Recommending teacher assessments for final grades instead, the group said it would be more unfair on pupils in areas hit harder by the pandemic to go ahead with exams.
But Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: ‘Most children I talk to want exams to continue, but clearly they need to be fair.’
An expert panel is due to report to the Education Secretary with recommendation for making exams fair for children across England.
There are concerns about how to take into account the hidden disadvantages for children whose access to remote learning is poor.
Matt Hood, principal of Oak National Academy, which was commissioned by the Government to produce online lessons, said one million children had been forced to use their parents’ mobile phones to study because they did not own a phone or laptop.
The Department for Education said there was no plan to cancel exams.