A number of North East schools have announced they will remain closed to pupils on the first day back after the festive break.
A string of unions representing teachers and support staff have told members that it is not safe for primary schools to reopen as planned across England from Monday January 4, in contrast to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show that parents should “absolutely” send their children back to school from Monday.
Primary schools are set to open across Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside and North Tyneside on either Monday January 4 or Tuesday January 5, depending on whether or not they have scheduled inset days. In London, schools will remain shut other than for children of key workers.
Local authorities in the North East say it is up to individual primary schools to decide whether or not it is safe to open. The councils say they will support headteachers in the decision they make.
A number of schools have already announced they plan to remain shut next week.
Other schools in Newcastle and Gateshead are considering their positions about reopening on Monday or Tuesday.
St Albans Primary in Walker, Newcastle, put out a social media update saying it expects to open on Tuesday but is “monitoring the situation”. Dunston Hill Primary in Gateshead said it is consulting with staff and will announce its decision on Sunday evening.
Here is a list of schools that have announced changes:
Westerhope Primary School: In a letter to parents, the school’s deputy heads said they had decided to close to all but vulnerable children and the children of key workers until at least January 18, as “the majority of our teachers do not feel it is safe to return to school for the first two weeks due to the new strain of Coronavirus and union advice”.
They said: “It has always been our aim to stay open for as many children as we can and we understand that for working parents this is very difficult, however, this situation is through no fault of school, our staff team or their representative unions.”
The school is closed to all children on Monday so staff can undertake emergency training, and will reopen only to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
Cragside Primary School, Heaton: Cragside Primary is closed to all children on Monday. ChronicleLive has contacted the school to ask when and to which groups of children the school will reopen, and will update this page when more is known.
In a message to parents on Sunday, headteacher Becky Jackson said: “I am so sorry to have to write to you late on a Sunday.
“When I last wrote to you (30/12/20) I was optimistic that Cragside would be open to all children on Monday 4th January. However, as you will be aware the last 48 hours have seen many conflicting reports regarding the safety of schools re-opening after the Christmas break. At present it is not clear whether I have enough staff to open school in the morning and so in the interests of operational safety Cragside Primary School will be closed to all children tomorrow, Monday 4th January.
“I apologise unreservedly for the inconvenience that I know this action will cause and I hope you understand that the timing of this is entirely out of my hands.
“My aim is to open school to as many children as it is safe to do so, as soon as possible. I will write to you all again tomorrow with a clear plan.”
A spokesman for the school said: “I have just spoken to the chair and board of governors and we have made the dreaded decision to close the school tomorrow and it looks likely that from Tuesday we will open for key workers and vulnerable children only. It’s an awful situation for us all.”
Newker Primary School, Chester-le-Street
The school will be moving to remote learning and will only be open to key workers and vulnerable children.
The Grove Primary School, Consett
It will remain closed to all pupils on Monday and staff will be in touch tomorrow to share our plans on how the school will open safely as soon as possible.
Delves Lane Primary School, Consett
Head teacher Rebecca Woods said: “We have made the very difficult decision to close to all pupils for tomorrow – Monday 4th January.
“I do understand that this will cause some disruption to families, and I can only apologise. We must protect the health and safety of our whole school community.
“We will be in touch tomorrow to share our plans on how school will open safely as soon as possible. I would like to thank everyone for your support.”
Bowburn Primary School
The school is moving to remote learning from Monday apart from children of key workers and vulnerable children.
A spokeswoman for the school said: “Due to concerns around increases in national and local coronavirus transmission rates, teaching and support staff are taking action following advice from their unions and professional associations.
All other children will move to remote (online) learning from tomorrow . This position will continue for two weeks initially.
Fishburn Primary School
The school will remain completely closed on Monday, with staff contacting families of key workers and vulnerable children so they can return on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the school said: “I cannot tell you how frustrated I am by the current events and the short notice of this decision which is largely out of my hands but I can tell you that myself and my team will work as hard as we can in the coming days and weeks to return to full class teaching as soon as we possibly can.
“I expect there to be further information available to me on Monday and as the week moves on and I will of course keep you as informed as much as I can.
“I understand this is not what we had planned and that closing school will inevitably cause individual issues so please just get in touch and we will support and advise as best we can.”
Seaham Trinity Primary School
The school will remain closed on Tuesday, with teachers carrying out a risk assessment to determine whether it is safe to return on Wednesday.
Head teacher Ray Bushby said: “I share all your concerns about the risk of infection and the guidance we are getting from the government is inconsistent and seems to contradict the SAGE scientists.
“I apologise for any inconvenience but I have satisfied my own concerns over safety of the children and staff before I can reopen the gates.
“As with every decision I have made during this situation the safety of everyone will always guide the direction we take.”
Cotsforth Primary School, Peterlee
The school will be moving to online learning for two weeks.
Westlea Primary School, Seaham
The school will remain closed on Monday, January 4, so that more information can be gathered with regards to health and safety, bosses have announced.
Parents will be contacted in due course on Monday with further information and may be asked if they are key workers or if their children are vulnerable.
Swansfield Park Primary School, Alnwick
The school said: “As you will be aware we are responding to a fast moving situation with regard to the safe opening of schools following the Christmas holiday.
“During the last 24 hours we have monitored and given serious consideration to our obligation to provide a safe environment for both staff and children. We have also responded to and acted upon staffing issues, the coronavirus infection rates in the local community and Northumberland County Council guidance.
“As a result of this consultation we are writing to inform you that children will be taught online from Monday 4th January. We will still be providing education for all of our children and will be diligently working to maintain this.
“Learning activities will be detailed on the school website under the “Class closures COVID 19” tab by 9am tomorrow morning and teachers will be available through email to support this remote learning.
“Provision for children of key workers will be available in school.”
It further added: “We appreciate the difficulties facing some of our families due to this last minute decision. It has not been taken lightly and we are committed to frequently reviewing this situation in light of national and local advice and circumstances. As always we are working in the best interest of our children, staff and local community. Thank you for your support in this matter.”
Whittingham C of E Primary School
The school says it will close to all children as of Monday January 4 except those who are vulnerable or children of critical workers.
Headteacher Belinda Athey told parents in a letter on Sunday: “As I am sure a number of you are aware the National Education Union have written to headteachers informing them that their members have the right to refuse to attend the school setting to teach whole classes of children.
“This morning I received a letter from a number of staff informing me that due to the current Tier 4 restrictions they do not feel it is safe or appropriate for them to teach whole classes of children.
“Following this information, I have spent today in meetings with the NEU and have consulted with Paul Rickeard, the director of education for the diocese, and Audrey Kingham, director of education for NCC, for advice and this letter has been formed as a result of consultation with the Newcastle Diocese, Local Authority and Governing Body of our school.
“Due to this ongoing situation, we can only open our school tomorrow and until further notice for critical worker children and those classed as vulnerable.
“I have been reassured by NCC that school transport will run as usual tomorrow so they will be arriving at all pick up points tomorrow and then will pick up the children as needed once we have a clear list of who will be attending (please do not send your child into school unless you are a critical worker).
“As a parent myself I fully appreciate how frustrating and difficult this will be for a number of you and how concerned you will be about your child’s education. I will be ensuring that for those children who are not in school learning is switched to online learning by lunch time of Monday.
“We will constantly review this situation whilst we are updated by the unions, DFE and the Local Authority and continue to update our risk assessments for tier 4.”
Kells Lane Primary School, Low Fell
The school said: “As you may be aware, there has been much discussion in the media over the last few days on whether it is safe for primary schools to reopen tomorrow. The new Covid-19 variant is spreading rapidly and the government are under pressure from teaching unions to delay the reopening of schools.
“We find ourselves in a very difficult situation. For school to open tomorrow, we have to ensure that the children can be kept as safe as possible under the circumstances.
“Unfortunately, there are several factors that prevent this from happening. In view of this, we have no alternative than to close the school to all pupils tomorrow.
“Online learning via Google Classroom will still take place and children should log on with their password for 9am. Learning will take place until 3pm.
“It is our aim to re-open for vulnerable and key worker children from Tuesday, however, this is a rapidly changing environment and we are doing all we can to ensure that this provision is available as quickly as is feasibly possible.”
The letter further added: “This was not a decision that was made lightly. Please understand that these measures have been taken for the absolute safety and wellbeing of our pupils and staff and we apologise for any inconvenience this will ultimately cause.”
Kelvin Grove Primary School, Bensham
The school will now only open to the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
Posting on Kelvin Grove Primary School’s Facebook, headteacher Jill Thompson wrote that she took the difficult decision to close due to the new Covid-19 variant’s speed of transmission within children and a lack of Government guidance about the risk to staff and pupils.
Mrs Thompson wrote: “As a school, we simply do not have the information needed to say that school is safe for all pupils and staff to return. For the first time, I am deeply concerned about sending my own children back to school with this new variant and I cannot ask you to do what I would feel unhappy doing.
“Therefore, it is our intention to only open for Key Workers and vulnerable pupils, as in the March lockdown, for at least the first week, with the hope that there will be some clarity from the government in that time.”
The school, which provides education for children with learning difficulties, posted on Facebook that it will not be opening on Monday.
The post said: “I apologise for the short notice and inconvenience that this causes, however given very recent developments it is necessary for school to be closed to all pupils tomorrow (primary and secondary).
“This will allow us to fully consider these new developments, update procedures where necessary, begin to introduce essential training for staff and decide on immediate next steps. We will be contacting you with further information tomorrow.”
Western Community Primary School, Wallsend
The primary has announced it will be closing for the first two weeks of the new term. It sent letters to parents on Sunday evening informing them of the decision.
It came after more than 90% of its staff said they did not plan to attend school if there was a full reopening.
As a result, Western Community will be open from Monday for key worker and vulnerable children only.
The letter, sent by headteacher Katherine Hill and chair of governors Alan Robson, said: “Following a thorough review of our whole school risk assessment, I am sorry to announce that we have no option but to close Western for the first two weeks of the new term.
“The NEU (England’s largest teaching union) yesterday advised its members of their legal right not to return to the classroom amid serious health and safety fears.
“The NAHT (headteachers’ union) has also initiated a legal challenge to the government’s decision to reopen schools.
“Over 90% of our staff have informed me that they do not plan to attend school if we plan a full reopening, in line with direct health and safety guidance from their union.
“In the absence of definitive evidence from the government for the scientific evidence on which it is basing its decisions on schools opening, we are unable to provide sufficient assurances to resolve staff members’ concerns.
“Unfortunately, with this proportion of staff advised by their unions not to come on site, it is unviable for the school building to be fully open to all pupils.
“The health and safety of staff, children, families and our wider community remains our priority.
“Whilst our building will be closed for most children, remote learning will be in place for all children via our SeeSaw and Tapestry apps for the duration of the closure.
“Staff will be contacting all families by phone and we will arrange home learning packs for those unable to access technology.”
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