Government slaps down schools that have been closing, cancelling nativity plays and banning parents from attending

  • The PM said he hadn’t issued any ‘guidance’ forcing schools to take the measure
  • His spokesman reaffirmed ‘how important education has been for our children’
  • It comes health minister Gillian Keegan said families should be at nativity plays
  • She said people should wear a mask and ‘be cautious’ but added they should ‘go’

Boris Johnson has slapped down schools that have closed, cancelled nativity plays or banned parents from attending amid fears of the Omicron super-variant.

The PM said he had not issued any ‘guidance’ forcing institutions to take the drastic measures and reaffirmed ‘how important education has been for our children’.

His comments come after one of his health ministers said families should be able to attend school nativity plays despite the new coronavirus strain.

Gillian Keegan said people should wear a mask and ‘be cautious’ but added they should ‘go about your plans’.

Meanwhile universities, colleges and secondary schools in Wales were told they should now wear masks indoors as concerns over the Omicron variant continue.

The Welsh Government issued the guidance on Monday evening that where social distancing cannot be maintained face coverings should be worn.

The PM (pictured in London today) said he had not issued any ‘guidance’ forcing institutions to take the drastic measures and reaffirmed ‘how important education has been for our children’

The number of children out of school for Covid-related reasons in England has risen over the past fortnight, figures show.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 2.6 per cent of all pupils – more than 208,000 children – were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on November 25.

This was up from more than 130,000 children, or 1.6 per cent of all pupils, on November 11.

Education unions have warned that disruption to schooling is likely to worsen following the emergence of the newly-identified Omicron coronavirus variant.

Face masks are being recommended in communal areas of England’s secondary schools and colleges from this week amid concerns about the variant, but unions say tougher safety measures are needed.

Among pupils out of class for Covid-19 reasons on Thursday last week, the main reason for absence was a confirmed case of Covid-19, figures show.

Approximately 105,600 pupils in England were off for this reason, up from 66,800 on November 11, and approximately 79,300 were off with a suspected case, up from around 50,500.

About 12,200 were absent due to isolation for other reasons, up from around 9,100 on November 11.

A further 9,700 pupils were off due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak, up from around 3,700, the Government figures show.

Overall pupil attendance has fallen from 91.5 per cent on November 11 to 89.3 per cent on November 25.

Asked if Mr Johnson was happy schools were shutting down, his official spokesman said: ‘We have set out the restrictions that we are placing on the public.

‘We know how important education has been for our children and that includes all aspects of our schooling.

‘We would expect, obviously schools rightly will need to consider their individual needs, but there are no guidance to that end.’

Face masks are being recommended in communal areas of England’s secondary schools and colleges from this week amid concerns about the variant, but unions say tougher safety measures are needed.

Yesterday the education secretary shot down the idea of closing schools despite growing panic over Omicron.

In an interview with ITV’s This Morning, Mr Zahawi called for calm and urged teachers to keep children in schools ahead of the festive season. He also said Christmas nativities should not be cancelled. 

He told hosts Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby closing schools was the last possible option in the fight against the virus.

Mr Zahawi added: ‘Keep schools open: do all the things necessary, like facemasks in communal areas… to protect the education in the classroom. Facemasks are not a panacea… these are all interventions that just help you slow the virus… from accelerating too quickly. Just to give the scientists a bit more time, a bit more headroom to actually decide what do we need to do next.’

Mr Johnson’s health minister Ms Keegan echoed his calls this morning as she addressed concerns nativities were being cancelled or restricted.

She told LBC: ‘Well, yes, I think we’ve said ”go about your plans”. I mean, obviously, you know, wear a mask, be cautious, you know, all the other… all the things that people usually put in place.

‘To be honest, I think most people are being… have been sensible all along. But we’re not saying to people cancel your plans. And you know, I’m sure it’d be lovely to go to a nativity play right now.’

Meanwhile in Wales universities, colleges and secondary schools were told they should now wear masks indoors due to the Omicron variant.

The Welsh Government issued the guidance on Monday evening that where social distancing cannot be maintained face coverings should be worn.

Education minister Jeremy Miles MS confirmed this was now the ‘national approach’.

‘This is a temporary, precautionary measure that will be in place for the remaining weeks of term at which point the position will be reviewed. This should come into effect in all settings as soon as possible,’ Mr Miles said.

‘With three weeks left of term, it is vital that we ensure that learning can continue for as many learners as possible,’ he added.

The rule applies to all staff and learners in those settings, the minister said.

Although he noted many schools are already operating on this basis due to their own risk assessments.

Mr Miles said: ‘The emergence of this new variant is a serious development in the ongoing pandemic.

‘We have already taken swift action on international travel, alongside the other UK governments. We are now introducing an additional measure, while we learn more about this new strain.

His comments come after one of his health ministers said families should be able to attend school nativity plays despite the new coronavirus strain (file photo)

‘There remains a lot we don’t know about this new variant. With this high level of uncertainty, it is right that we remain cautious while prioritising the continuation of education.

‘It reinforces the need for everyone in Wales to get their vaccine or booster when offered, wear face coverings when necessary, and book a test if they develop symptoms.’

Mr Miles said he would be writing to all institutions on Wednesday to set out the new guidance.

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