York council can’t close schools despite ‘soaring’ coronavirus rates

4 Jan 2021 @ 4.01 pm
| Education

The man in charge of education at City of York Council says they can’t close all the city’s schools – even with ‘infection rates soaring’.

Cllr Keith Orrell blamed the government for parents’ concerns over sending their children to school this week – citing a ‘lack of clarity’ from ministers.

“We all want children to be in school,” he said.

“It is acutely important for young people to access in-person education in a balanced, structured and safe environment, as the potential negative impact that a long period out of school would have on our young people and on closing the attainment gap cannot be underestimated.”

But the government had “squandered opportunities to get ahead of the virus and left pupils, parents and teachers understandably anxious and confused”.

No blanket closure

A sign outside an entrance to St Peter’s School, York. Photograph: YorkMix

Cllr Orrell, executive member for children, young people & education, said: “It is important to recognise that City of York Council does not have powers to enforce a blanket closure of all schools, only the government is currently able to make an order to this effect.

“In line with government guidance, the council is continuing to work with all schools through the York Schools and Academies Board to put in place all necessary measures to prevent the spread of infection so that schools remain a safe environment for pupils and staff.”

Given the current state of the pandemic, the council wants the ability to order short-term school closures.

“We have seen York follow the national pattern with infection rates soaring in recent weeks,” he said.

“Our NHS is being put under strain and this is why we are lobbying the Departments for Education and Health and Social Care, asking them to reconsider their current national guidance to local authorities and schools (which would include temporary, short-term school closures).

“This should take place in advance of any further changes in national restrictions that now look increasingly likely to occur, due to the Government’s failure to respond effectively to the virus.”