School chaos as furious parents blast 'confusing' rules with towns 'split in two' as some reopen and others shut

PARENTS have today blasted the "confusing" rules over schools reopening with some towns "split in two".

It comes after it was announced yesterday millions of schoolkids in the worst-hit Covid areas will stay home for at least an extra two weeks after the Christmas holidays.

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Around one million primary kids in these areas will be forced to learn from home if they can for at least two weeks – with no end date in sight for when they may go back.

15 per cent of the total primaries across the country will stay shut.

One baffled parent told the Sun Online her children's school in New Malden, Kingston, is open, but one less than a mile away in another borough is shut.

Bilal Ahmed dubbed it "utterly ridiculous", adding: "It's scary and unsafe for everyone in the school community."

How clear have you found the announcement? Is your area split with different rules? Get in touch at [email protected]

The confused mum will have to send two of her children to school, with the other at home for online learning as his is shut.

She said: "[It's] exasperating really and the juggling will just have to be done.   

"On parents, they are amazed and disgusted in equal measure. Its utterly ridiculous.

"School can’t currently guarantee Covid safety for themselves let alone kids and parents and the wider school support staff like dinner ladies, etc."

Another baffled parent wrote on Twitter: "Still no idea what I am meant to be doing on Monday."

And one confused person added: "Is it just me or was the way the rules on closures and openings of schools was presented a little bit confusing?"

It came as:

  • Another 20 million people woke up in Tier 4 today as three quarters of England was shoved into the highest level of restrictions
  • A Sage expert said England will probably be in a full lockdown by the end of January – but Gavin Williamson ruled out national action
  • Boris said the Tiers system would likely last until April – but may be moved up if the vaccine rollout goes well
  • Deaths reached nearly 1,000 yesterday – with 50,000 new cases

One told the MailOnline: "The school at one end of the street I live in will be closed while the school at the other end is open."

And another fumed that their area is now "split in two" with "schools on one side of the road closed, the other side open".

Thousands of schools in 49 hardest-hit Covid areas will remain closed because of spiralling cases – except for vulnerable kids and children of key workers.

Many people were left scrabbling around trying to find the list to see if their kids would be back at school or not – with some furious at the differences in their local area.

One person blasted: "How can they shut schools in Croydon, Merton, Southwark, Sutton and Wandsworth but not Lambeth which seems to have higher rates than some of other boroughs which are shutting schools.

"Half my son's school in Lambeth walk the 5 mins it takes from Merton and Croydon to get there?"

Liz Keeble, headteacher of a primary school in Basildon, Essex, said she learned from the television on Wednesday afternoon that her school would not reopen next week, before hearing from her bosses.

She told BBC Breakfast today: "We have to kind of plan for the worst and hope for the best really. "


Expected return dates for schools

Most primary schools: Open on January 4 as planned

Key exam years: return on January 11 as planned

Secondary schools: Delayed until January 18 (due to go back on January 11)

Covid hotspots: all primary and schools stay shut except for key workers and vulnerable kids. No timetable, but likely to be beyond January 18

London council leaders have criticised the Government's list of areas where primary schools will not open to pupils next week as having "no logic".

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was "urgently seeking clarification as to why schools in some London boroughs have been chosen to stay open" while others "just down the road won't".

Other critics included Danny Thorpe, leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which was threatened with legal action by the Government earlier this month after issuing advice to schools to move to online learning for the last few days of term.

Mr Thorpe  said there was "no logic to how this list was brought together" as Greenwich was not on the list of schools which had to close.

He raged: “Kensington and Chelsea has one of the lowest infection rates for the whole of the capital, yet their children and young people are being afforded the extra protection that apparently Royal Greenwich students don’t need.

“While we are very glad that they will benefit from these extra precautions, we can only speculate why this borough was included, yet with an infection rate more than 200 cases higher per 100,000, Royal Greenwich was not.”

And Redbridge was also left off the list – but later added.

Local MP Wes Streeting said last night: "We have a situation where lists are being updated only minutes after publication. This is an utter shambles. I’m so sorry to parents and staff affected by Government incompetence."

Islington's schools are allowed to open too.

Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council in north London, said: “We are now seeking urgent clarification from the Government about why Islington’s primary schools are to reopen in the week of January 4, while those in many other London boroughs will not reopen.

“It is deeply frustrating that the Government has made this announcement at the last minute, just days before the start of term, weeks after it was clear coronavirus cases were surging in London."

And Philip Glanville, the mayor of Hackney in north-east London, said schools should be closed in his area, too.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said today he is "absolutely confident" that secondary schools will be able to run a mass testing regime with an extra week to prepare.

He told Sky News: "In terms of secondary year groups, the reason that we have moved that back is so we give all schools, every single school, every single college that teaches secondary-age pupils the opportunity to roll out a mass testing regime, making sure we root out this coronavirus.

"It's not just about making it safer for pupils, it's not just about making it safer for those who work in schools, but actually it's about rooting out coronavirus in our communities and we did need to give schools a little bit extra time."

Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow and chairmen of the Education Select Committee, called for teachers to be made a priority for vaccinations against Covid-19 so schools can stay open.

He told BBC Breakfast: "What I also want to see is teachers, especially now that we've got the Oxford vaccine, that teachers and support staff are made an absolute priority for vaccinations because if we can make sure that they're vaccinated and they're safe, it's less likely that schools will have to close."

He expressed concerns over a potential "epidemic of educational poverty" as school openings are delayed.



Yesterday afternoon he declared would do "everything" to keep children in school, and the majority of primary schools will reopen on Monday, January 4.

But, in nearly 50 Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, ALL schools will have to stay closed, including primaries.

That includes most of London, Essex, Kent, and a handful of areas in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East Sussex – but key workers and vulnerable pupils can still attend.

These will stay closed until at least January 18 – but the situation will be reviewed every two weeks.

Secondary schools in the hotspot areas will stay closed for at least two weeks until January 18 – along with schools in the rest of the country.

The data will be reviewed before then and a decision made whether to get schools back.

But students set to sit GCSEs and A-levels will return on January 11 as planned – and any January exams will go ahead.

Boris Johnson told the nation last night at an emergency press conference: "I am afraid the start of the new term will be delayed until at least January 18, when the latest data on those infection rates will be reviewed. 

"That is because the rate of transmission in these areas is so high, and there’s just such pressure on the local NHS, that extra action is required to control the spread of the virus."

'CONFUSED RULES'

Early years like nurseries will remain open nationally, as will alternative provision and special schools.

Students going back to university should stay home if they can – and only those who need to attend for practical learning to go back.

They should get two coronavirus tests before they do.

Summing up the grave situation facing the nation, Mr Williamson said: "We must always act swiftly when circumstances change.

"The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term.

"The latest study we have from Public Health England is that Covid infections among children are triggered by changes in the community rate.

"The study also says that the wider impact of school closures on children's development would be significant.

"I'm quite clear that we must continue to do all we can to keep children in school."

The plans will be reviewed every two weeks – with no end date in sight for when they may be allowed to open.

The first starter packs of up to 1,000 test kits will only arrive at all secondary schools and colleges on 04 January – meaning schools face weeks of delays before being able to test everyone.

1,500 military personnel are on hand to help with the tests.

Full list of areas where primary schools will stay closed until further notice

  • Secondary school kids' return date is already pushed back two weeks – any schools in the below areas will be reviewed beforehand to see if they can open
  • Areas with primary schools which will stay closed too are:

London

  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Barnet
  • Bexley
  • Brent
  • Bromley
  • Croydon
  • Ealing
  • Enfield
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Havering
  • Hillingdon
  • Hounslow
  • Kensington and Chelsea
  • Merton
  • Newham
  • Richmond-Upon-Thames
  • Redbridge
  • Southwark
  • Sutton
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Waltham Forest
  • Wandsworth
  • Westminster

Essex

  • Brentwood
  • Epping Forest
  • Castle Point
  • Basildon
  • Rochford
  • Harlow
  • Chelmsford
  • Braintree
  • Maldon
  • Southend on Sea
  • Thurrock

Kent

  • Dartford
  • Gravesham
  • Sevenoaks
  • Medway
  • Ashford
  • Maidstone
  • Tonbridge and Malling
  • Tunbridge Wells
  • Swale

East Sussex

  • Hastings
  • Rother

Buckinghamshire

  • Milton Keynes

Hertfordshire

  • Watford
  • Broxbourne
  • Hertsmere
  • Three Rivers

Matt Hancock has now plunged three-quarters of England into Tier 4 – meaning millions of kids are set to miss out on yet more classroom time because of the killer pandemic – and will have to learn at home.

The Health Secretary told MPs all of the North East of England, the South West and most of the Midlands would be thrown into Tier 4.

The announcement means that all of England is living under Tier 3 or Tier 4 lockdown – apart from 2,000 people living on the Isles of Scilly.

Ministers hope the extra delay to schools' reopening will be enough to make sure they can roll out mass testing in schools. The Army is on standby.


Teaching unions called yesterday’s U-turn a “shambles”.

Paul Whiteman, of the National Association of Headteachers, said: “This is another last-minute mess which could so easily have been avoided if the Government had listened to school leaders.”

Meanwhile MPs’ return to Parliament has been delayed until January 11, angering many backbenchers.

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