‘North Yorkshire schools should not close early for Christmas’

County Hall in Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council has rejected suggestions for schools to close early for Christmas due to concerns over a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases over the festive season.

The council’s most senior education officer said schools were the best place for children in the run-up to Christmas and that extraordinary efforts had been undertaken to make them safe environments.

A meeting of the authority’s children’s scrutiny committee heard residents in some areas of Scarborough district, where the Covid-19 infection rate is more than triple that of that in neighbouring Hambleton district, were asking for answers over why schools were still open there.

Whitby Streonshalh division councillor Joe Plant said: “As the number of cases are going up in schools, and not just teachers, would it be a good idea for the schools to close early to make sure everything is done properly so we can come out of Christmas and New Year in a better situation?”

In Wales, all secondary schools and colleges have switched to remote learning, while primary schools in larger urban areas, such as Cardiff, will also close early.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked the government to shut schools in the capital, and reopen them later in January.

Last month, the government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan stated schools in England should not close early for Christmas holidays, however, schools minister Nick Gibb has since said schools could schedule an inset day on Friday to allow “six clear days” before Christmas Eve.

He said this would ensure teachers and heads do not have to deal with “track and trace issues” through the break.

Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire’s corporate director of the children and young people’s service, said the government’s offer of an inset day had come too late for most schools in the county and would create headaches for parents.

He said the number of schools that were closed or partially closed had fallen over the past two weeks and last Wednesday there was only one primary school that was fully closed, while 20 others had partial closures. He assured members that officers had been very thorough with their risk assessments.

Mr Carlton said: “We have made sure Covid is not spreading through our schools and when cases present we act very quickly. That’s meant we’ve been able to maintain our attendance at 90 per cent. That is fantastic particularly for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have the same access to all sorts of resources for learning.

He told the meeting: “The best place for our children is to be in school. Government guidance has been that schools should stay open. I think that is right unless there are particular circumstances where it is better for the safety of pupils to shut or partially shut.”