Islington Council backs down on closing schools before Christmas

15 December 2020, 19:43 | Updated: 15 December 2020, 21:19

Schools in Islington will remain open
Schools in Islington will remain open. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Islington Council has become the latest London authority to back down on closing schools before Christmas.

On Monday, Islington Council had advised schools to move to online learning from the end of Tuesday because of a rise in coronavirus cases across the capital.

But council leader Richard Watts reversed the advice on Tuesday evening, following a similar move by Greenwich Council which said it had "no choice" but to ask schools to remain open following threats of legal action from the Government.

Islington Council has suggested schools arrange an inset day on Thursday if possible with Friday already scheduled to be an inset day.

In a statement, Islington Council leader Richard Watts said: "“After discussion today with the Department for Education, we have now advised our schools to open as usual to pupils on Wednesday (Dec 16), and advised our schools that they are able to arrange an INSET day on Thursday. Friday was to be an INSET day already.

“We issued this advice to schools because the situation in Islington is so serious. As Islington and London continue to face surging rates of coronavirus it’s absolutely vital we all work together and do everything we can to keep our families and loved ones safe. 

"The more people mix, the more the virus will spread, and the serious illness and death we will all see in our community. I urge residents to do whatever you can to stay safe at this dangerous time.”

In contrast, Redbridge Council has said it would support schools in the east London borough if they decided to close and move to online learning from Wednesday.

In a statement on its website, the council said its education service had written to schools on Monday offering support should they decide to close "due to staff and pupil absences making continued opening unviable".

It said schools had been put under "a huge strain" following an increase of Covid-19 cases in the local area.

Read more: Teacher criticises Government for 'punitive' handling of Greenwich Council on schools

Read more: Coronavirus: Will schools in England close early for Christmas?

Council leader Jas Athwal said: "Unfortunately, cases of Covid-19 continue to rise across the borough, and as a result, some of our schools are struggling to continue to provide the high-quality in-person teaching our children deserve.

"It is not the role of the Council to close schools, but today we want to be absolutely clear - we will support our local schools if they choose to move to online learning."

And Waltham Forest Council in north London said local schools had been threatened with legal action by the Government if they did not stay open, after the council advised them to move to online learning ahead of Christmas.

Council leader Clare Coghill said in a statement issued on Tuesday evening: "We have been made aware that the Minister for School Standards, the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, has written to schools across Waltham Forest threatening legal action if they do not stay open or reopen where they have followed the advice given by us yesterday.

"We would note that as of the issuing of this statement we have received no correspondence from the minister today in relation to that advice."

It comes after the leader of Greenwich Council said he had "no choice" but to ask schools to remain open following threats of legal action from the Government.

The local authority had agreed to withdraw its advice to schools in the south-east London borough to move to online learning for the last few days of term amid rising Covid-19 rates in the capital.

However on Monday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Labour-run council on Monday evening to keep schools open to all pupils until the end of term or it will face legal action.

In a statement, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said: "With Covid-19 cases rising rapidly in the borough, I cannot agree that this is the correct choice for our schools.

"However, I also cannot justify the use of public funds to fight the decision in the courts.

"Consequently, I have no choice but to ask our schools to keep their doors open to all students rather than just continuing with online learning."

Mr Williamson welcomed the decision as he said children's education was a "national priority".

Downing Street also defended the Government's determination to keep state schools open ahead of the end of term despite rising coronavirus cases.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have been clear throughout on the importance of schools, both in terms of the learning that children require but also the development and mental health gains it brings by being able to attend school.

"We have been clear that it's in the best interest for all children to attend."

Asked whether that message applied to private schools, the spokesman said: "The Government thinks that all schools should remain open for children and that's the best place for them to be."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Children's education is a national priority and this Government has acted in the interest of children since the start of the pandemic.'

"I welcome Greenwich Council's decision today, and the Regional Schools Commissioner and her team will continue to work with schools in the borough, as we are with schools across the country, to make sure they have the support they need to continue face to face education right up to the last day of term."