Schools reopening criticism

Leaders slam government over decision to allow borough’s schools to reopen

By Simon Allin

Political leaders in Haringey have slammed the government’s decision to allow the borough’s primary schools to reopen despite high Covid-19 infection rates.

MPs and the council leader are calling for a review after ministers revealed primary schools in 22 other London boroughs – including neighbouring Enfield and Barnet – will not reopen as planned next week, in a move designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

The latest data shows the seven-day Covid-19 infection rate in Haringey – 785 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 25 – is the tenth highest in London.

Yet primary schools in 14 London boroughs with lower infection rates will only open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children on Monday.

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green Catherine West has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson blasting what she called a “chaotic announcement, with no local consultation” and calling for an urgent review.

Ms West said she had been “inundated with emails from anxious parents and teachers who cannot understand what criteria have been used when infection rates in Haringey are higher than in some of the other London boroughs, such as Kensington and Chelsea, where schools will remain closed.”

The MP added that she had supported efforts to keep schools open, but parents and teachers need to know children’s safety comes first and that science and data drive government decisions.

Tottenham MP David Lammy tweeted: “Struggling to understand Gavin Williamson’s logic in leaving Haringey Council off the list of areas for delayed school openings. Our infection levels are higher than other London boroughs included, and no one consulted locally. This is about life and death. This needs urgent review.”

Council leader Cllr Joseph Ejiofor posted: “Government’s management of this pandemic continues to be shambolic. They want Haringey schools open yet close schools in 14 boroughs with LOWER infection rates than ours.

“The Secretary of State has already made a public U-turn for Redbridge. We’re writing to him to insist we are added to that list.”

Haringey Council has called for “urgent clarity” on why the borough was left off the list of delayed primary school openings.

When he set out school contingency plans on Wednesday, the Education Secretary said keeping schools open had been a priority for the government throughout the pandemic.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Williamson described the government’s response as “proportionate to the risk at hand” and pointed to a study from Public Health England indicating that the wider impact of school closures on children’s development would be “significant”.

The minister added: “In a small number of areas, where the infection rates are highest, we will implement our existing contingency framework such that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face.”

Mr Williamson said ongoing testing for primary school staff would be rolled out later in January.

The Department for Education said it works closely with Public Health England, the NHS, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and across government to monitor the number of new infections, positivity rates, and pressures on the NHS, on which basis decisions are made.

News for local communities is essential. Tottenham Community Press needs your support to keep making it. Please support us by signing up as a member.