All primary schools in London will remain closed for the start of the new term, the government has confirmed.
It is the latest in a string of U-turns performed by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s department.
It comes two days after the government said only those in 22 of London’s 32 boroughs would be affected by closures amid surging COVID-19 rates in the capital.
Leaders of nine London local authorities had written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging him to rethink the decision.
Mr Williamson said the city-wide closures were “a last resort”.
The government said it had decided all primary schools in the capital would be required to provide remote learning after a further review of coronavirus transmission rates.
Vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers will continue to attend school, the government said.
Early years care, alternative provision and special schools will remain open, it added.
Schools in nine London boroughs and the City of London district had been set to reopen – while those in the remaining 23 boroughs would have stayed closed from 4 January.
The U-turn means around a million pupils aged between four and 11 will face remote learning from Monday, after youngsters in 27 other local authorities outside the capital were told on Wednesday they would be taught online for an indefinite period.Advertisement
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision about when they could return to school would be reviewed by 18 January.
The only pupils that are allowed to attend primary schools in designated areas under the government’s contingency framework are those who are vulnerable or the children of key workers.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “In light of COVID case rates rising rapidly across the capital and ongoing engagement with London leaders and the evidence submitted, the government has reviewed the London boroughs where the contingency framework will apply, with all further boroughs added.
“Due to the fast moving situation, and where local conditions are changing rapidly, the review of London boroughs was brought forward for a decision today as part of the contingency framework process.”
The move wasn’t enough for at least one of the teaching unions, which called on the government to go further, with primary pupils in dozens of other Tier 4 local authority areas able to return to school this week.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said all exam year secondary students would return on 11 January, and all other secondary school students following a week later on 18 January, to enable preparations for the testing of pupils and staff to take place.
Apart from the affected primary pupils in London and the South East, all other primary age youngsters are due to return to school at the start of term in a few days.
The National Education Union said in a Twitter statement: “Thanks to @sadiqkhan @georgiagould @londoncouncils and all those who lobbied for the government to do the right thing in London. Now @GavinWilliamson must delay school opening nationwide to reduce transmission, support our NHS and #protectourcommunities”
Thanks to @sadiqkhan @georgiagould @londoncouncils and all those who lobbied for the Government to do the right thing in London. Now @GavinWilliamson must delay school opening nationwide to reduce transmission, support our NHS and #protectourcommunities https://t.co/k1ggzdfXii— National Education Union (@NEUnion) January 1, 2021
The announcement that all London primary schools will remain closed is the latest in a string of U-turns performed by Mr Williamson since the pandemic began.