Majority of Wolverhampton primary schools shut despite government advice to open

Dozens of primary schools across the Black Country and Staffordshire are keeping their gates shut despite government advice to open classrooms again today.

Primary schools in England were due to reopen on Monday
Primary schools in England were due to reopen on Monday

The spring term was starting for primary school pupils across England on Monday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said parents should send children back to classrooms despite rising Covid infection rates across the country.

However many schools and academy trusts - including more than three quarters of primaries in Wolverhampton - have independently taken the decision to close classrooms apart from for vulnerable students and children of key workers.

Other students will be taught remotely online.

Out of 48 schools across the city that had declared their intention to open or close on Monday, 35 had decided to teach children remotely. Most of those that were open were set to review the decision after meetings, with many only open for teacher training on Monday anyway.

Exact numbers elsewhere in the region have not yet been confirmed, but primaries across the West Midlands have been announcing their intention to stay shut via texts, emails and social media.

Claregate Primary School was among the schools in Wolverhampton that announced their decision to close on Sunday afternoon, after the city's council leader Ian Brookfield expressed his opposition to the reopening of schools in a letter to the Government where he asked for support moving schools to remote learning.

The council received a response from the Government on Sunday afternoon saying schools must continue to prepare to open as planned at the start of term.

Claregate Primary School headteacher Michael Murphy

In a letter to parents and carers, Claregate headteacher Michael Murphy said he had received concerned messages from staff and been reminded by the council that the rate of infection in the city had risen sharply in the week since Christmas.

Mr Murphy wrote: "The LA [local authority] are suggesting that a week of home learning would help to minimise movement and mixing of families across the city, whilst enabling the LA to support schools in reviewing risk assessments and mobilising dedicated testing for school staff. Local public health officials are clearly extremely worried about the effects of the new variant on transmission between children and schools reopening and we have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment, which is now in serious doubt.

"Having stated that we are open, I now regrettably feel as though we have to close on safety grounds until further notice, to all but key workers and vulnerable children, until we can take further advice.

"I understand just how much this will disrupt your work and family life and how frustrating the timing of the notification is. I also understand that my sympathy and understanding doesn’t get you childcare for tomorrow."

Among the primary schools open in Wolverhampton on Monday were Bilston CE, Dovecotes, Westacre and Holy Trinity, which was open at parents' discretion.

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Wolverhampton Council said many were still finalising their plans for the week and reiterated that schools would announce their decisions via the usual channels and not through the council.

The Express & Star has contacted other local authorities across the Black Country and Staffordshire for further details but similar letters have been shared by schools across the region.

The Short Heath Federation, which runs Lane Head Nursery, Rosedale Infant School and Short Heath Junior School in Willenhall, was among the trusts that announced plans to close after unions urged staff to work from home.

Executive Headteacher Cathy Draper told parents: "Based on low staffing numbers in our schools, we are unable to reopen fully for at least this week. This is likely to remain the case for the first two weeks of term but we will keep this under constant review. We know this will cause inconvenience for some of you and, for that, we can only apologise. We have no choice. It is not a decision we have taken lightly."

Councillor Chris Towe, the Walsall Council cabinet member for education and skills, said: “We firmly believe that schools will do what is best for their staff and pupils.

“Over the last 24 hours it has become clear that a number of local schools will not be fully reopening to everyone as planned based on the number of staff they have available. These schools will of course prioritise on-site provision for children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, as has been the case since the spring. Remote learning will be put in place for all children who cannot attend on-site provision.”

“Every individual school must make its own decision, as is completely right and proper and we will support them in that decision."

Meanwhile some schools, such as Brickhouse Primary School in Rowley Regis, are closing to pupils from Tuesday.

Unions urge remote working

Elsewhere in the country, all of London’s primary schools and those in some surrounding areas are staying shut until January 18 due to the fast-spreading variant of Covid-19 while secondary schools in England will have a staggered return, with those taking exams this year resuming in-person teaching on January 11 and other year groups on January 18.

Union leaders came together on Monday to warn that bringing all pupils back to class could fuel the pandemic and put teachers at “serious risk” of falling ill.

The Government’s “chaotic” handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for parents and teachers, according to a joint statement from unions representing school staff and headteachers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted it was safe for primary schools to reopen in all but the worst-hit areas of England following the Christmas break.

But a statement – signed by the NAHT school leaders’ union, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers’ union, GMB, Unison and Unite – calls for a move to remote learning for most pupils.

Mr Hancock said teachers are at no greater risk of contracting the disease than the rest of the population.

“There is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people’s long-term health,” he said.

For Labour, shadow education secretary Kate Green said there needs to be a “stronger set” of coronavirus restrictions in place with a clear “stay at home” message to the public.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is very clear that the Government has lost control of the virus, we’re seeing a really alarming rise in cases and in the spread of the infection.”

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