Mayor of Newham rules out closing schools early

Signage outside a closed West Bridgford Infants School in Nottingham. Photograp: Tim Goode/PA.

The mayor of Newham has ruled out closing all the local authority's schools. - Credit: PA

The mayor has ruled out closing all the boroughs' schools before the end of term.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz said where cases of coronavirus are confined to single year groups, then sending those children home would be "the most appropriate step".

Ms Fiaz, speaking at a full council meeting on Monday, December 14, said: "Those working in schools have faced an incredibly challenging set of circumstances.

"As with much decision-making around Covid-19, there are no easy answers."

She said the council is desperate to reduce transmission of the virus and allow everyone to live as normal lives as they can. 

However, she added: "Children have paid a terrible price for this pandemic and we owe it to them to do all we can to help them navigate the challenges with living with Covid-19 with as little disruption and as much support as we can provide them."

Ms Fiaz told council colleagues the local authority does not have the legal ability to force schools to close with education secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, reserving the right to decide under coronavirus legislation.

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Mr Williamson has told Labour-run Greenwich council to keep schools open to all pupils this week or face legal action.

Schools in Greenwich were told to switch to remote learning for most pupils from Monday evening in a letter from council leader Danny Thorpe.

Labour-run Islington Council has instructed its schools to shut too.

Ms Fiaz said that Newham still plays a role in advising primaries and secondaries. 

Newham's advice to schools is only to end in person teaching before the end of term if they have outbreaks in multiple year groups.

The mayor said: "With term about to finish, [this] gives the best chance for children and staff to isolate and disrupt ongoing transmission."

However, she added where cases are confined to a single year group - which is the case with most schools in Newham - the council believes sending that particular bubble home is the "most appropriate step".

Newham's decision is partly based on evidence showing schools have not been places which have fuelled the virus's spread. The borough has also not seen many school-based outbreaks.

The mayor said the number of children testing positive have increased quickly only recently and that may be due to factors outside schools.

The mayor said schools staying open until the end of term would allow more access to tests and a "robust" testing regime is  being developed to support schools next term.

"School is vital for children both for learning and emotional wellbeing. It is important not to close schools unless absolutely necessary," the mayor said.