Starmer urges leaders to try to keep schools open as Khan backs early closure

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Keir Starmer has urged leaders to keep schools open. But the London mayor has called on the government to consider closing London schools early for Christmas, amid a surge in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases.

Sadiq Khan wants all secondary schools and colleges in London to close a few days early and reopen later in the new year due to “significant outbreaks” among 10 to 19-year-olds.

The mayor is also calling for all schools in London to get priority testing from today. And he’s asking for for extra resources to support online learning.

But Labour leader Starmer said he would urge Khan to speak to the government about keeping schools and colleges open.

The disagreement comes as schools in Greenwich have closed. Students will switch to remote learning from Monday evening to curb rising coronavirus rates.

“Exponential growth” in cases

In a letter to parents, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said the east London borough was experiencing a period of “exponential growth” in coronavirus cases, which required “immediate action”.

Starmer told his LBC radio phone-in:

I’m very reluctant to close our schools down. I’m worried about closing schools early but equally I can see council leaders are put in a difficult situation now.

Asked what he would say to the London mayor, he said:

Starmer did suggest bringing an extra inset day forward from the new year so schools could close a day earlier than planned. He added:

But the worry about closing schools is all the parents have to decide what they do. That’s very difficult with short notice, and we know from previous experience that for children out of school it’s really difficult for the most vulnerable children.

Reducing the risk to teachers and students

Schools in England can take an inset day on Friday so staff can have a “proper break” from identifying potential Covid-19 cases. But heads have been calling for more flexibility to end in-person teaching earlier. They want to reduce the risk of pupils and staff having to isolate over Christmas.

Khan said:

With significant outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds, the government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early and reopen later in January, with extra resource provided to support online learning.

In a letter to Boris Johnson on Sunday, he added:

All schools, sixth form and FE colleges, not just in the boroughs with higher levels of cases but across London, should be given priority testing tomorrow (Monday) and Tuesday.

Story via Press Association

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