Coronavirus closes Harrogate schools until further notice
Schools and colleges have been told to close their doors until further notice by this Friday as the Government steps up its response to the coronavirus crisis with more draconian measures.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the nationwide schools shutdown this afternoon as some headteachers in Harrogate were already enforcing partial closures themselves with a growing number of staff and students self-isolating.
All schools across England are now expected to be closed until further notice after they close their gates at the end of the day on Friday.
But some schools will remain open for children of key workers, including NHS staff.
Speaking in a the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Williamson said: “I know the situation has become challenging. I have said before that if the science and advice changes so much so that keeping schools open is no longer in the best interest of children and teachers then we will act.
“We are now at that stage.
“The pace of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated. The public health benefits of keeping schools open are shifting.
“It is clear schools are finding it more difficult to stay open as normal with illness and self-isolating impacting staffing and pupil levels.
“After schools shut their gates on Friday they will remain closed until further notice.”
Commenting on the decision to close schools, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement that, for public health reasons, schools will now close.
“It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.
“We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GSCE, AS- and A-Level exams are to be cancelled.
“This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.”
The government had faced sharp criticism for keeping schools open whilst urging people to work from home, stay away from pubs and avoid “non-essential” travel.
Chris Keates, acting general secretary of teachers’ union the NASUWT, said the government advice given earlier this week lacked a “clear and definitive” direction and created a “rising sense of panic.”
She said schools were “struggling with ever diminishing staffing levels” which meant they were “being driven to make arrangements for changes to staff working conditions which have the potential to compromise the health and safety of staff and pupils.”
“We note that, at this time of emergency, the government has decided that teacher assessment is indeed a good method of giving reliable information about young people’s progress and achievements. We will return to that when this crisis is over.
“Now, more than anything else the government needs to concentrate on ensuring that children in food poverty are fed properly - these children are not just those on free school meals.”
But the move will now be welcomed by headteachers who have been struggling to keep their doors open, with growing numbers of staff and pupils off school.
On Tuesday, Harrogate Grammar had closed its doors to Year 8, 9 and 12 pupils when its headteacher Neil Renton said in a letter “we are simply not able to fully and safely staff the school for all year groups.”
King James’ School in Knaresborough had also told its Years 9, 10 and 12 not to come in after a lack of staff left it unable to run at its full capacity.
The schools have made clear that pupils who are not in school will be able to access learning modules online on the various VLE platforms available.
Mr Renton urged parents and carers to encourage children to continue working within school hours when they are at home, to ensure staff are available if there are any problems and stressed the importance of keeping pupils in a routine.
Carl Sugden, headteacher at King James’ School, said his school used today’s training day to bring staff up to speed on distance-learning techniques and measures so all pupils will be able to access the same level of education from home.
Schools have been preparing for the closures for some time, with many setting up ways of working online and creating homework packs. But there have been concerns about how frontline NHS staff and others can now remain in work if their children are not in school.
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire County Council said: “We will continue to support schools through this challenging period.”
Ofsted inspections have also been temporarily suspended for all schools, colleges, early years settings, children’s social care providers and local authorities.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK rose to 2,626 on Wednesday. The number of fatalities has now reached 104.
Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporting Service