The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Hackney are calling on the government to explain why it has recommended that primary schools open in the borough next week – despite the fact that ministers have said schools in areas “worst hit” by Covid-19 should stay closed.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday announced that primary schools in much of England would reopen as planned on 4 January but would remain closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers in “areas of concern”, including most of London.
But a list of these areas later published does not include Hackney – despite the borough having the 30th highest infection rate in the country and being in the top 10 in London. In contrast, other boroughs such as Westminster, which has a far lower infection rate, were included on the list.
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, and Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney and the cabinet member for education, young people and children’s social care, have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to urgently explain the rationale behind the decision or failing that, to add Hackney to the list.
They wrote: “On face value, there appears to be little logic to this, and our residents and teaching staff are already starting to express their concerns via social media and by contacting us directly.
“It is very difficult for us to reassure those parents, carers, and staff, when you have not explained the methodology used to make the decisions behind the list that you published this afternoon.
“We would urge you to clearly explain that methodology at the earliest opportunity tomorrow. For us, for our schools, and for our residents to have faith in the decisions that the government makes, it is vital that those decisions are transparent.
“Like you, we do not want our children to miss a day more of their precious school life than is absolutely necessary, but the situation in boroughs like Hackney is now very grave, and we are extremely concerned about the potential implications of today’s decision and its impact on stopping the further spread of coronavirus and saving lives.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and borough council leaders have said they were not consulted on the government’s decision to reopen some primary schools in the capital from next week.
Mayor Khan said it is the “right decision” to delay the start of term but has said he is “urgently seeking clarification” as to why primary schools in some areas of London will be opening from next week but not others.
He added: “No one wants our children’s education to be disrupted by school closures. But with the rate of infection now dangerously high in London and hospitals battling with a surge in coronavirus cases, it is the right decision to delay the reopening of London’s schools for in-person learning in the worst-hit areas, with the exception of vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
“We know that before Christmas secondary school-aged students had the highest rates of the virus and were passing it onto their families, and this move is critical to help slow the spread.
“However, it seems council leaders, headteachers and governing bodies were not consulted by the government about this decision and it will be very confusing for parents that some primaries will be open, but others just down the road won’t. I am urgently seeking clarification as to why schools in some London boroughs have been chosen to stay open.”
At least three London councils wrote to schools before Christmas asking that they reduce face to face teaching due to a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases, but were threatened with legal action by the government as a result.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson took to morning television today to clarify the decision to postpone the return of schools in some areas and said that the measures were taken “on public health advice”.
He said: “The work that was done with the Department of Health, which identified areas where it was either a very high rate or, using their latest data, were seeing very sharp increases in the number of cases or equally the pressures on hospitals in that area and the clinical needs.
“These were all the considerations that were taken into account but what I want to say, and this will come as no surprise to you whatsoever, I want to see schools, any school, that’s closed for those first two weeks, opening at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The government said it expects to deliver 50,000 laptops and tablets to schools across the country on Monday to support remote learning while schools remain closed, with a further 100,000 devices to be delivered over the following week.