'Deeply unfair' to force schools to stay open, says ex-head

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said the decis

Geoff Barton said the government's approach was 'deeply unfair' - Credit: Archant

A long-serving former Suffolk headteacher has criticised a decision to force schools concerned about rising coronavirus levels to stay open as "deeply unfair".

Geoff Barton - general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds - fears principals, families and pupils will be caught between the "heavy-handed approach of central government and increasing alarm at local infection rates".

Geoff Barton, former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, was also pleased about

Geoff Barton was headteacher of King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, for many years - Credit: Gregg Brown

Council leaders and headteachers in some areas have called for schools to close early if there are rising Covid-19 infections, instead switching to online learning.

However, Downing Street has said it expects schools and colleges to remain fully open until the end of Thursday.

New powers introduced through the Coronavirus Act allow the government to issue "directions" to heads around education provision during the pandemic.

But, should schools fail to comply with directions to remain open, education s

ecretary Gavin Williamson could apply for a High Court injunction forcing them to do so.

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A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "It is a national priority to keep education settings open full time and it is vital that children remain in school until the end of the term.

"Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted and our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues."

However, Mr Barton said: "Although it is now incredibly late in the day, the government must remove the threat of legal action and allow schools to make the decisions they need to make on behalf of their staff and children.

"In the future, it must allow for more nuanced responses to local infection rates and the huge disruption affecting many schools rather than insisting on a one-size-fits-all approach."