Harrogate headteachers express relief as school closures give 'clarity and consistency' after Covid disruptions
Headteachers in Harrogate have expressed relief at the government’s decision to close schools, saying it gives "clarity and consistency" after months of coronavirus disruptions.
Primary schools had returned from the Christmas break for just one day on Monday before all schools and colleges were told to shift to remote learning overnight with just a few hours notice.
It marks yet another U-turn for the government which was urging parents to send children back to primaries, while secondary schools had worked flat out over the festive period on plans for mass Covid testing.
Concerns will now shift focus to government efforts to avoid a repeat of last summer's grades fiasco after education secretary Gavin Williamson announced this year's now-cancelled GSCEs and A-Levels exams will be replaced with school-based assessments, with more trust placed in the judgement of teachers rather than applying algorithms.
As with previous Covid school closures, children of key workers and pupils from vulnerable backgrounds will continue to attend but all other students will learn from home until at least mid-February.
Neil Renton, headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, said: "We faced real challenges before Christmas with students having to isolate, so with the news of a more transmissible variant, the new lockdown gives students clarity and consistency on how they will learn for the next half term.
"The school is open to children of key workers and vulnerable children and for those we will start the Covid testing programme that was originally intended for the whole school from 11 January onwards, this will be a further protective measure.
"Throughout this pandemic and the resulting challenges our school community and parents have been extremely understanding and we continue to thank them for their support."
Mathew Atkinson, executive headteacher at Woodfield Community Primary School, said teachers worked "tirelessly" to put remote learning plans in place and that he was sympathetic with parents juggling full-time jobs and caring for children at home.
He said: "We appreciate many of our families will be working from home and will be supporting a number of children in their households. This is not an easy task and we appreciate the expectations can seem daunting.
"We have worked tirelessly to ensure all families have access to home learning for the next six weeks at least, be it through our school app or a weekly printed home learning pack for the children who do not have access to devices and the internet at home.
"Please be assured that by taking care of your children, spending time with them and caring for them you are doing your very best."
Tim Broad, headteacher at Western Primary School, added: "We all want to get back to some kind of normality as soon as possible and having all children back in school is the ideal.
"In the meantime, we have to do everything we possibly can in these circumstances to give them the very best learning experience we can."
In a statement to the Commons today, education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed exams due to be sat in May and June will be replaced with teacher assessments, adding that the Department for Education and regulator Ofqual had already worked up contingency plans.
He also insisted "our schools have not suddenly become unsafe," saying they are "much better prepared than last March" to implement home-learning.
He said: "I will not apologise for being enthusiastic to ensure that we had been able to be in a position to roll out exams - but we do recognise where we are as a result of this pandemic, we have to take a different course and that is why we are taking the route we are."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter