The Secretary of Education casts doubt on proposals to reopen schools and directors call for a rethink of examinations
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson conceded that schools in England could stay closed until mid-January, although the country’s largest education authority urged that its schools remain closed and principals called for reassessment of the examinations next summer.
Just three days after announcing he was “absolutely confident” that all schools would reopen, Williamson said secondary schools could remain closed to most students after Jan. 18 within the 60 government-designated “emergency areas”
“Those in exam years will be taught remotely in the first week of school and face-to-face from Jan. 11, while other secondary and college students will return full-time on Jan. 18 in areas where we have not had to apply the emergency framework,” Williamson wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
The remarks of the education secretary are a marked deviation from his claims on Dec. 31, when he told the BBC, “We are absolutely confident that all schools will return.” when asked if he ruled out further closures.
Williamson’s remarks came when the UK’s largest local authority, Birmingham City Council, asked him to allow the city’s elementary school to close for the next two weeks, adding that he would help any schools that defy the government and stay closed.
“The new strain of virus and the rising numbers of cases in the city mean we are very concerned about children returning to elementary school, special schools and alternative settings over the next week,”The new strain of virus and the increasing number of cases in the city mean that we are very concerned about children returning to elementary school, special schools and alternative settings over the next week.
Boris Johnson also expressed concerns about the timeline for reopening the schools by his government, which was announced only five days ago. On the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said, “We have to keep reviewing things.”
The prime minister spoke of “tougher measures” being taken to curb the spread of Covid-19, adding, “Obviously school closures, which we had to do in March, are one of those things.”
All four of the major teachers’ unions in England, including the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers, called for schools to remain closed to all students on Saturday.
The decision was endorsed by Unison and GMB, which comprise the majority of other school employees, and the City Council of Brighton and Hove, which called for the closing of schools in its district for the next two weeks. Unison told its representatives, “It’s unsafe for you to be in the workplace at the moment when your school is fully open to all pupils.”
For the first time, Johnson also indicated that national tests such as A-levels and GCSEs could not take place this summer in England, telling Marr: “We have to be realistic about the speed at which this new variant has spread … and we have to be humble in the face of this virus.”
The “Worth Less?” school leaders’ advocacy group said the government needs to reconsider its approach to testing urgently.
Public safety should not be jeopardized or guided by inflexible adherence in its present form to GCSE and A-level exams,”Public safety should not be risked or driven by inflexible adherence to GCSE and A-level exams in their current form.”
All the daily secondary schools and colleges will be closed from Monday, the first official day of the new term in England, except for disadvantaged children and those whose parents are key staff.
Elementary schools will also be closed until January 18 in the 60 emergency areas – hastily expanded from 50 following concerns from London local authorities.
“Dr. Susan Hopkins, the senior medical advisor to Public Health England, said, “School attendance is critical for the mental health and educational benefits of children.
Traffic can be minimized by closing schools, but public health advice remains that they should be the last to close and the first to reopen.
“Where rates are extremely high, continue to rise, and the NHS is under significant pressure, it may be necessary to close schools as a last resort.”
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that in determining which schools to open to the most students, the government would allow “local flexibility”
Let school leaders arrive at a balanced decision based on what is happening