No10 demands schools stay open despite Covid spike

14 December 2020, 14:44

No10 has urged schools to stay open despite a surge in coronavirus cases
No10 has urged schools to stay open despite a surge in coronavirus cases. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Downing Street has demanded schools remain open until the end of term despite rising coronavirus cases in London.

Boris Johnson's official spokesman called on schools not to close early after those in the boroughs of Islington and Greenwich were advised to shut due to coronavirus.

Greenwich Council advised schools to close by Monday night while Islington Council demanded the same of its schools by Tuesday, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers.

In Essex, eight of the nine secondary schools in Basildon have moved to full remote education, the county council confirmed on Monday.

However, the prime minister's spokesman hit out at the decisions, saying: “We expect schools to be open to the end of term.”

Live: Updates as capital faces toughest coronavirus restrictions

Read more: Sadiq Khan calls for secondary schools to close early for Christmas

But he did not confirm whether any action would be taken against institutions that remain shut against Downing Street's advice.

“Regional school commissioners will work closely with local authorities, and as you would expect the Department for Education have been working closely with schools and local authorities throughout the pandemic,” the spokesman said.

He also refused to say whether schools that chose to shut early should expect a letter from ministers or a “temporary direction of continuity”.

The spokesman repeated the government's message regarding the importance of keeping schools open to allow pupils to continue to learn and would not confirm if they would reopen as planned after the Christmas break.

Read more: Islington Council tells schools to shut from Tuesday

Watch: Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan at odds over closure of London's schools

“We will obviously keep the latest scientific data and information under review,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve done throughout the pandemic and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“But again I would point back to… the importance of school and the need for pupils to be able to continue to learn.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan asked the government to consider closing secondary schools in London for Christmas as early as tomorrow amid fears the capital will be plunged into Tier 3 this week.

Mr Khan said there had been "significant" Covid-19 outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds in the capital, and that government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early ahead of Christmas and reopen later in January.

He said all schools and colleges across the city should be given "priority testing" from Monday and Tuesday.

However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC on Monday morning that he would be "very reluctant" to close a large number of schools in the capital.

Speaking on Call Keir on breakfast on LBC, Sir Keir said: "I'm very reluctant to close schools down.

"I'm really worried about what's happening across London because we're only 12 days out of lockdown. The numbers are rising very, very fast.

"I'm not sure Tier 2 is strong enough to hold the virus," he added.

Islington Council said in a statement: "The council is advising schools in Islington to move to online learning from the end of Tuesday to reduce people mixing and stop the virus spreading.

"The council has also asked schools to be open for onsite learning to children of key workers, and vulnerable children."

It has also advised schools to remain closed after the Christmas break and continue online learning until 11 January.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock prepares to make a statement in the House of Commons.

At 3:30pm the minister is expected to confirm that London will enter Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

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