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More pressure to close Kent primary schools as Brighton and Hove City Council tells teachers to delay reopening

Primary schools in Brighton are set to stay closed next week despite not being on the government danger list - sparking calls for the same approach to be taken in Kent.

Council bosses in the East Sussex city have advised teachers to delay reopening and work remotely until January 18 due to increased rates of Covid-19.

Brighton and Hove councillors say while they want all schools to fully reopen, they "need to keep children as safe as possible"
Brighton and Hove councillors say while they want all schools to fully reopen, they "need to keep children as safe as possible"

The move comes after the National Association of Head Teachers said it has begun legal action against the Department for Education over plans to reopen schools next week.

In Kent, the government will force schools in Thanet, Dover, Folkestone and Hythe and Canterbury districts to reopen despite schools in every other part of the county remaining closed for the first week of the new term.

Brighton and Hove councillors say while they want all their sites to fully reopen, they "need to keep children, school staff and the wider community as safe as possible".

This afternoon, veteran Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who represents North Thanet, said "we need consistency in a schools reopening policy that reflects the spread of the pandemic as it is now".

"What is right for London has to be right for east Kent," he tweeted.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale says "teachers' lives matter"
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale says "teachers' lives matter"

"Delay the start of term and reassess the needs of both the education and health services. Teachers’ lives matter."

Earlier today, the National Education Union, which represents teaching staff, said the escalating numbers of people contracting coronavirus potentially places teachers at risk.

Warren Chambers, the joint branch chairman of the Kent branch of the NEU, said staff who do not return will be protected by legislation which permits them to do so in circumstances where they feel unsafe.

He said: “We are letting members know there is a piece of legislation they can use which is Section 44 of the Health and Safety Act, which entitles them to say they do not feel safe but will [allow them] to be available to work from home.

“With this more virulent strain, which is 70% more contagious, children are getting Covid and transmitting Covid and that includes primary children.”

'People are dying and we know the rise can be linked to schools'

He said there is confusion among parents in Kent caused by the closures of primary schools in one area but not in other neighbouring authorities, such as Swale and Canterbury.

“Parents will travel from one area to another and school staff and with that brings the added risk of infection," he added.

Mr Chambers downplayed the criticism that a potentially lengthy period away from the classroom would be detrimental to pupils.

“A few weeks or a month away from learning is not going to damage children irreparably," he said.

"Teachers do want to be in schools -this is not about closing schools and not wanting to do the job.

Schools in Thanet, Dover, Folkestone and Hythe and Canterbury are set to reopen next week
Schools in Thanet, Dover, Folkestone and Hythe and Canterbury are set to reopen next week

"But people are dying and we know the rise can be linked to schools.”

Next week, secondary schools will stay shut while staff set up asymptomatic testing facilities for the planned return of all pupils on January 18.

Children of key workers, vulnerable pupils and those in exam years are due to return on January 11.

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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