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Will schools shut a week early this Christmas term over fears of Covid-19 isolating? Kent head teachers have their say

Head teachers insist schools will remain open until the week before Christmas - despite the risk children might have to self-isolate throughout the festive period.

Schools are due to break up on Friday, December 18, meaning if there is a positive Covid-19 case in the classroom that week, staff and pupils will have to stay home for 14 days, missing out on seeing extended family over the break.

Herne Bay High School in Bullockstone Road, Herne Bay. Picture: Chris Davey
Herne Bay High School in Bullockstone Road, Herne Bay. Picture: Chris Davey

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But despite this, the government is remaining firm in that schools should stay open, instead of shutting on December 11.

Kent County Council says it doesn't have the power to order a full closure of schools and is supporting them to stay open so children can access education.

Paul McCarthy is head of Minster Church of England Primary School in Thanet, where Covid rates are second highest in Kent and where more than 25 schools have been affected since September 1.

He is following Department for Education guidelines and staying open until the end of term.

But he admits he wondered if the Government might suggest an early closure when the Christmas plan was announced on Monday.

Paul McCarthy, head teacher at Minster CofE Primary near Ramsgate
Paul McCarthy, head teacher at Minster CofE Primary near Ramsgate

"It would make a lot of sense from a local perspective at the moment, as we have so many secondary schools that have been hit hard with Covid - pupils and staff," he said.

"Our area's high Covid numbers, combined with lots of mixing at Christmas, can't be a good combination in my opinion.

"An earlier closure might help reduce the R number in our area, but would be very dependent on how the guidance set out by the government is followed."

Sam Atkinson, executive headteacher of Dame Janet and Newlands Primary Academies in Ramsgate, says he too is following the government guidance that schools should not be closing early for Christmas.

In October, he had to send home 129 pupils for 14 days after two teaching assistants tested positive for coronavirus.

Dame Janet Primary Academy in Ramsgate. Picture: Google
Dame Janet Primary Academy in Ramsgate. Picture: Google

He said: "I can only re-iterate the continued need for people to act safely and with thought for others in order for Christmas to be a good time for everyone."

At Chatham and Clarendon Grammar School in Ramsgate, which has also had confirmed cases, head teacher Debra Liddicoat, says she is planning on a normal finish.

"An early finish is not something that has come up within the school and so I'm planning to carry on until December 18," she said.

"The idea to stop sooner was something I think was mooted by the unions, but the answer was no."

At Herne Bay High, head teacher Jon Boyes says the Department for Education has made it clear to schools that shutting early is not something it would recommend.

Jon Boyes, principal of Herne Bay High School. Picture: Gary Browne
Jon Boyes, principal of Herne Bay High School. Picture: Gary Browne

But he said he would suggest that if given support by the local authority or the DfE in areas where there is a high infection rate to support the well-being of everyone in the pandemic, it would be worth exploring further.

"I think it would be beneficial to many families and I think it would help with the infection rate," he added.

Warren Chambers, joint district secretary of East Kent's National Education Union (NEU), says a two-week circuit break would have been helpful at half term.

He says he would support children leaving school a week early for Christmas, but with 'blended learning' - doing school work from home.

"We need to be mindful that it's not about asking schools to be shut, but just to send children home where they can work at home online," he said.

"The teachers would still be teaching, schools wouldn't be closed - it would be a week providing learning from home."

However he admits the concern would be for deprived families who may not have access to laptops or devices to help with home learning.

He added: "Shutting a school is a logistical nightmare, there are so many factors to consider.

"What about key worker children for example.

"But I would be supportive of sending children home earlier for Christmas."

Mr Chambers, who works in a school in Broadstairs, says making it optional for parents would be a nice idea.

KCC cabinet member for education Cllr Richard Long. Picture: KCC
KCC cabinet member for education Cllr Richard Long. Picture: KCC

"We do have some parents already who are keeping their children out of school, but it's marked as unauthorised, although we're not pushing for fines," he added.

Education chief Cllr Richard Long at KCC says the overriding priority is to ensure children and young people are able to access high quality education in a safe environment.

"This continues to be the case throughout the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

"The vast majority of Kent schools have remained open throughout the entirety of the pandemic – for vulnerable learners and the children of key workers at the height of the first lockdown and for a wider cohort of pupils outside of that period.

"Teaching and support staff have done a fantastic job of managing extremely difficult circumstances effectively and safety and I have every confidence they will continue to do so moving forward.

"KCC will continue to support schools to remain open to pupils all the while central government says it is safe for them to do so.

"Colleagues have been sharing the latest guidance and advice from the Department for Education and Public Health England with school leaders, to enable them to put measures in place to keep all pupils and staff safe, and this will continue.

"We will closely monitor the national situation over the coming days and weeks and will support school leaders in ensuring they have the necessary information and resources to continue to educate their pupils in the most appropriate way while also looking after the physical and mental well-being of everyone within the school community."

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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