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Delayed U-turn On School Closing Angers Families Fearing Spread of Virus

Published on: 5 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 7 Jan, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Boris Johnson’s delayed U-turn on school opening has left angry parents among others wondering why this was not done before children were allowed to mix for a day.

The Prime Minister announced an immediate national lockdown tonight (December 5), which closed schools immediately. Just the day before, on national television, he had “assured” the nation schools were safe. That U-turn left mere hours for parents to sort childcare and for schools to overhaul their learning plans.

Monica Harding, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Esher and Walton, described Mr Johnson’s performance as a “joke”, tweeting: “This is a mad way to run the country, telling parents on Sunday to send their kids to school, on Monday closing them, two weeks after trying to sue local authorities who tried to close because of high infection.”

Zöe Franklin, who stood for Guildford Lib Dems against Angela Richardson in the last general election, said: “The PM’s announcement should have been made before Christmas, but yet again he ducked the difficult decisions, failed to listen to experts and acted too late.

“Headteachers and their staff have had just hours to move their entire term’s face-to-face learning plans into remote ones. Parents have had hours’ notice to plan how their family will juggle remote learning while they work from home or make childcare plans if they need to leave for work but not in critical jobs.

“And with schools having been open on Monday, there are potential consequences for communities in the number of Covid-19 or variant cases.”

Cllr Julie Iles

Julie Iles, Surrey County Council’s Conservative cabinet member for all-age learning, said: “I don’t think the timing of the announcement was helpful. It was very unfortunate and has led to a lot more work for our teachers and support staff.

“It’s relentless, we’ve switched from getting schools open to arranging remote learning. School staff have been phenomenal. They’ve responded to every situation that’s thrown at them. Thank you also to the parents and carers for being patient.”

Cllr Iles said a full lockdown with school closures was the best way forward to reduce transmission rates, although this will be “very hard for families”, but she urged them to “continue their understanding” because “teachers need some TLC”.

She added: “We know our vulnerable kids are better off in school. Children will miss out on face-to-face learning. That’s why we tried to stay open.”

Although the government advice to Surrey primary schools yesterday was to open, neighbouring London schools were told to shut because of the rapid growth of the coronavirus variant there.

Cllr Iles said “it wasn’t helpful for Surrey” when parents were asking why schools in, for example, Epsom and Ewell were open when the infection rate there was higher than in some parts of London.

Maintaining social distancing was vital, she said, “to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed”.

She went on: “The numbers are scary. If infections continue to rise, we’re very close to the edge. I don’t want to frighten people, but I want them to take this seriously.”

Ian Woodley, a Woking father working from home, thinks schools closing again will “destroy children’s futures” and instead the elderly and vulnerable should be shielded.

“This is not only a disaster for the children’s education but it will also mentally tip some parents over the edge,” he said. “Home-working and home-schooling don’t mix. It is impossible for working parents to manage the stop/start approach.

“No one is talking about the mental health of parents, particularly single ones.”

There are also worries about how to home-school without a computer.

Last year, Surrey County Council distributed 3,000 laptops from the Department for Education (DfE) to disadvantaged families and said more are promised.

Some defiant parents kept their children at home yesterday, because of concerns for their families’ safety.

West Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council have fined parents for taking their children out of school due to coronavirus.

The DfE says councils can issue fines of £60 if children are missing school “without good reason”, and if this is not paid within 28 days the parents can be prosecuted.

Surrey County Council said they have not issued any such fines for unauthorised absences related to coronavirus.

A spokesperson added: “It is a matter for the headteacher of each school to decide whether to authorise an absence, depending on the circumstances. How schools apply the code is laid out in DfE guidance.”

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