Parents fear the return of remote education in the run-up to the Christmas holidays as schools begin to impose their own “circuit breakers”.
Official guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) says that schools should only send large groups of children home in “extreme cases” and as a “last resort”.
The Telegraph has learned that some schools have already started to close, citing a rise in cases. St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Credenhill, Hereford, has told parents it will have a seven-day “full school ‘circuit breaker’ closure” which began on Tuesday and will end on November 29.
Bernadette Davies, the school’s executive headteacher, wrote to families to explain that the decision has been taken “in conjunction with our Local Authority” and follows a “significant increase” in Covid cases in the school.
She explained that the school has “worked tirelessly” to keep children safe during the pandemic but added that “despite our best efforts to reduce the risk of transmission within school” the one week closure is the “next course of action”.
Ms Davies said that the school had already implemented a deep cleaning regime, increased hand washing and sanitising, brought in the use of PPE, separated year groups and staggered playtimes and lunches.
“The purpose of this break is to act as a ‘circuit breaker’ and cease the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the school,” she said.
The school will be closed to all pupils – including the most vulnerable and the children of key workers – and they will instead be taught remotely. In previous national lockdowns, these groups of children have been allowed to continue attending school.
Arabella Skinner, of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said that remote learning was a “failed experiment” and “not one that we should be repeating in the context of a nearly fully vaccinated adult population”.
She added: “As the experience of last year shows, these isolated cases of school closures don’t stay isolated for long. The worry is that in the run up to Christmas we will see more examples of this. For how much longer are we going to ask our children to stay second class citizens?”
Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, in Darwen, Lancashire has also announced it would close its doors until December 2.
The school, which caters for pupils aged 13 to 19, said it was a “difficult decision” to move to online learning. Colin Grand, the school’s headteacher, said in a letter to parents: “Over the weekend we have received a number of positive cases in our student and staff community. I have today met with Public Health England and discussed the situation with an outbreak response team.
“In light of the number of cases and the advice given we have made the difficult decision to close the school and move to remote online lessons until Thursday 2 December.”
He said: “In conjunction with PHE, the DfE and Covid guidelines we have taken the difficult decision to build in a short circuit break and move towards remote learning.”
Mr Grand added that the re-opening date will be reviewed and could change depending on positive cases in the staff community over the next 48 hours.
Current guidance from the DfE states that in “extreme cases, and as a last resort where all other risk mitigations have not broken chains of in-school transmission”, a director of public health “may advise introducing short-term attendance restrictions”. It says that this could include “sending home a class or year group”.
Former ministers have called for a school triple lock to be introduced to prevent the Government being able to shut down classrooms again.
A new Bill championed by Robert Halfon, the Tory chairman of the education select committee, says that any decision to close schools must pass three tests in the future.
The MP for Harlow said closures during the coronavirus pandemic “wielded a hammer blow for students’ education and wellbeing”.
Mr Halfon’s Ten Minute Rule Bill, which is backed by a dozen MPs including by two former education ministers, seeks to redefine schools as “essential infrastructure” to ensure they remain open during any future public health or national emergencies.