'Shambolic': Camden and Haringey councils question decision to keep primary schools open

Education secretary Gavin Williamson outside Downing Street. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson outside Downing Street. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA. - Credit: PA

Council leaders in Camden and Haringey have expressed confusion and anger at the government's decision to postpone primary school reopening in some, but not all, London boroughs.

Primary schools in the two boroughs are due to open on January 4.

Cllr Georgia Gould, who chairs the London Councils group as well as leading Camden, tweeted in response to the announcement: "Putting a list out to media including half of London boroughs with NO conversation with councils or education leaders is deeply irresponsible.

"How to explain to parents that their children can go to school in Camden but not if study in Westminster/ Barnet? Government must work with us."

Camden council leader Georgia Gould.

Camden council leader Georgia Gould. - Credit: PA/Lauren Hurley

Haringey leader Cllr Joseph Ejiofor said his council has written to the Department for Education, saying primary schools in the borough must also be closed.

He said: "[The government's] management of this pandemic continues to be shambolic. They want #Haringey schools open yet close schools in 14 boroughs with LOWER infection rates than ours.

"[Gavin Williamson] has already made a public U-Turn for Redbridge. We’re writing to him to insist we are added to that list."

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Primary schools in Westminster and Barnet are among those which will still be shut. 

Catherine West MP (Lab, Hornsey and Wood Green) has written to the education secretary to raise the issue. She wrote:  "It is difficult to see the logic for this decision and my inbox tonight has been inundated by emails from anxious parents and teachers who cannot understand what criteria have been used when infection rates in Haringey are higher than some of the other London boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea where schools will remain closed."

In Camden, Nicholas John, head at Acland Burghley in Tufnell Park, said: "The first thing to say is the way I see it, this remains a national emergency, so I think its important the government is able to act to change course, In our school and I'm sure throughout Camden we have a lot of good systems in place and are able to adapt quite quickly." 

Angela Rooke, acting headteacher at Hornsey School for Girls told this newspaper: "The guidance has always been very late and ever-changing, and it's been quite an impossible situation to find our way through. All of the colleagues I've spoken to really believe in mass testing, we just need the time and resources to do it."

She said the fortnight's delay in the return of physical teaching might give them the time to implement this, but she said: "But it does cause other pressures."

Angela added the challenge was making sure the school was able to be clear with its community about what the latest situation was.

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He said he thinks efforts to improve school testing from both national and local government means schools will be in a better position when they were reopening physically than before Christmas. 

He added: "It's about getting the balance right. There's a risk of education not continuing too, so far we've found that the policies we've implemented have been effective and the children have really played a role in that."

Secondary schools are due to make a staggered return - but delayed by a week - providing face-to-face education for exam year groups from January 11 and other years from January 18.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson outlined some of the reasoning behind the government's plans to reopen a proportion of primary schools on Thursday morning, with more than 85% due to open next week.

He told Sky News: "The work that was done with the Department of Health who identified areas where it was either a very high rate or, using their latest data, were seeing very sharp increases in the number of cases or equally the pressures on hospitals in that area and the clinical needs.

"These were all the considerations that were taken into account but what I want to say, and this will come as no surprise to you whatsoever, I want to see schools, any school, that's closed for those first two weeks, opening at the earliest possible opportunity."

Asked whether he apologised to parents, teachers and children for the notice given for the measures, Mr Williamson said: "I think we all recognise that if we go back a few weeks where there was no new variant of Covid, none of us would have been expecting us to be having to take the actions, whether it's in regards to schools, whether it's in regards to Tier 4 moves that the Government has had to make, but it's the government that's having to respond at incredible pace to a global pandemic and then a new variant of that virus.

"It's not what any of us would want to do, it's not a decision that any of us would be wanting to have to implement, but we've had to do that because circumstances have dictated it.

"I think the British public expect the government to do what is right and even though that is sometimes uncomfortable, it is taking the right actions, dealing with these extraordinary times."