Schools in a coronavirus-hit borough of London will remain open in a major U-turn after the council was issued with a legal threat by the Tory government.
Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe backed down in a bitter fight with the Tory Education Secretary over what would be safest for kids.
While schools are supposed to remain open regardless of which tier they fall into, the heightened restrictions being introduced are indicative of how COVID-19 transmission has increased in those areas.
And the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that about one in 50 secondary school pupils is infected – twice the rate of adults over the age of 25.
Today Mr Thorpe said in an open letter to parents: “While I do not believe this is the right thing to do, this is a legal decision by the Secretary of State.”
He added: “With COVID-19 cases rising rapidly in the borough, I cannot agree that this is the correct choice for our schools.
“However, I also cannot justify the use of public funds to fight the decision in the courts.
“Consequently, I have no choice but to ask our schools to keep their doors open to all students rather than just continuing with online learning.”
It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened legal powers against the council for advising its schools to close.
Following the Government’s legal direction, here is an open letter to families in #greenwich. My main priority has always been children & families across @Royal_Greenwich not a courtroom battle with the Government, and I acted based on data that shows rising cases of #covid19 pic.twitter.com/75N6n00OU9— Dan Thorpe (@DanLThorpe) December 15, 2020
On Monday night Mr Williamson issued a temporary continuity direction to the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
The order said the council must “immediately and by 10am on 15 December” withdraw its letter to headteachers over the weekend, which advised schools to shut except for vulnerable or key workers’ children.
The order also said the council must distribute a direction for schools to open by 10am on Tuesday.
Ministers could have enforced the direction under the Coronavirus Act by applying the High Court or the county court for an injunction.
Greenwich took the decision after case rates spiralled in the borough and the capital.
An estimated 4,710 people in London tested on December 11 came back positive for Covid-19 – almost double the 2,402 on December 6.
The data for December 11 is still incomplete and could be revised down – but it may also be revised up as more tests come back with results.
London hit 225 new cases per 100,000 in the seven days to December 8, up every day since a lockdown low of 155 per 100,000 on November 26.
And the capital, along with parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, will be placed into Tier 3 lockdown restrictions from midnight tonight.
In a letter to Mr Williamson, Greenwich Council said it believed his direction may have gone beyond the Tory minister’s legal powers.
The council said Greenwich’s infection rate had risen by 49% in the week to December 13, with 817 local school children testing positive – 686 of them at secondary schools.
Council leader Mr Thorpe said today: “My motivation has never been about a legal battle with the government, as frankly we all have enough to do.
“Based on the information I had before me, I believed this was the correct course of action for Royal Greenwich.”
Mr Williamson said last night: “I have always been clear that using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority.
Schools in England were told they could close a day early for Christmas last week to give staff a “proper break” from identifying potential coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, would you Adam and Eve it!
Eton College Close’s After Some Pupils And Staff Test Positive For Covid
Eton College has temporarily closed due to a coronavirus outbreak which, according to reports, has left a ‘significant’ number of pupils and staff needing to self-isolate. The boarding school, one of the most prestigious high schools in the world and situated near Windsor in Berkshirewhich, counts Prince Harry and Boris Johnson among its alumni.
Headmaster Simon Henderson said in a letter to parents: ‘Having been largely Covid free since Long Leave, a number of symptomatic boys and staff have tested positive in the past few days. We are awaiting results on several others, with more scheduled to be tested.
The Headmaster went on to say that the school had taken medical advice, which suggested there was a ‘danger’ of cases increasing if immediate action was not taken. He also stated that he wished to avoid pupils and staff having to self-isolate over the Christmas holidays. It is understood he did not specify in the letter which age group had been affected by the outbreak.
A former teacher at Eton College has been found guilty of sexually touching students during night-time visits to their bedrooms at one of Britains most prestigious boarding schools. Reading Crown Court heard that Matthew Mowbray, of Locks Heath, Southampton, entered boys’ rooms late at night on the pretext of discussing schoolwork before touching them for his own “sexual gratification”.