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Schools are allowed to have December 18 off so ‘stressed’ teachers get a ‘proper break’

Schools will be allowed to take an inset day on the last Friday of term so teachers can have a ‘proper break’ from identifying potential coronavirus cases ahead of Christmas, a minister said today.

Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb said the Government wants there to be a ‘clear six days’ ahead of Christmas Eve so teachers and heads do not have to ‘engage with track and trace issues’ throughout the festive break.  

It comes after a headteachers’ union said giving schools the flexibility to switch to remote learning for the final few days of term next week is an ‘obvious and straightforward solution’.  

Chris McGovern, chairman for the Campaign for Real Education, today insisted the Government should be ‘protecting the best interests of those millions of children and parents who need schools to remain open.’  

He added: ‘Instead, the schools’ minister, Nick Gibb, has caved in to appease bully-boy union bosses. 

‘I sympathise with hard working teachers but I sympathise more with under-privileged children for whom school provides the hope of a future.’  

Mr Gibb’s pledge for a Christmas training day wasn’t met with positivity by all – with one Briton asking on social media: ‘Can the NHS staff have a day off as well?’

Another said: ‘A proper break over Christmas… if teachers have it SO hard they should try working in retail, my Christmas break is Christmas Day and Boxing Day.’

Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb (pictured) said the Government wants there to be a ‘clear six days’ ahead of Christmas Eve so teachers and heads do not have to ‘engage with track and trace issues’ throughout the festive break

Mr Gibb's pledge for a Christmas training day wasn't met with positivity by all - with one Briton asking on social media: 'Can the NHS staff have a day off as well?'

Mr Gibb’s pledge for a Christmas training day wasn’t met with positivity by all – with one Briton asking on social media: ‘Can the NHS staff have a day off as well?’

Other frustrated parents asked how they will sort childcare for another inset day ‘so late in the day’.

One user said on Twitter: ‘How is this helpful, so late in the day? 

‘Parents have to sort childcare for insets (as do teachers with children attending other schools). Too little, too late.’   

Another added: ‘That’s great however where does that leave full time working parents in these pandemic times? No clubs… etc. I think we all need a “proper break” teachers and parents, everyone included. A vaccine bank holiday?!!’  

In Scotland, a teachers’ union was today pleading for staff to be able to work from home on the last two days of term so they can spend Christmas with their families without worrying about coronavirus.  

Schools in Edinburgh are set to stay open until December 22, but the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) wants staff to work from home on December 21 and 22 to avoid spreading the virus and families having to cancel plans. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, had warned that schools could see a ‘steep drop’ in pupil attendance next week as parents seek to prioritise family safety ahead of Christmas. 

The Government in its Covid-19 Winter Plan last month had told schools in England not to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term.

But addressing the virtual Education Select Committee today, Mr Gibb said: ‘We are about to announce that inset days can be used on Friday December 18, even if an inset day had not been originally scheduled for that day.’

He added: ‘We want there to be a clear six days so that, by the time we reach Christmas Eve, staff can have a proper break without having to engage in the track and trace issues.’ 

Department for Education (DfE) figures showed that between 7 per cent and 8 per cent of state school pupils – up to 650,000 children – did not attend school for Covid-19-related reasons on Thursday last week.

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of schools reported having one or more pupils self-isolating after being told to do so due to potential contact with a Covid-19 case inside the school on December 3, down from 33 per cent.

The Government in its Covid-19 Winter Plan last month had told schools in England not to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term. Pictured: Stock image

The Government in its Covid-19 Winter Plan last month had told schools in England not to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term. Pictured: Stock image

Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of secondary school pupils were absent from class on December 3, which is down from 22 per cent the week before, the figures revealed.

Schools have been calling for more flexibility to end in-person teaching early to reduce the risk of pupils and staff having to self-isolate over Christmas, as well as reducing the burden of contact tracing during the holidays.

Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, Mr Gibb said the Government wants schools to stay open until the end of term as it is the ‘best place for young people for their education development’ and for their mental health.

But he added: ‘We want to make sure that they [school staff] can have a proper break over Christmas. We know they’ve been under huge stress.

‘I don’t think some of these senior leadership teams of schools have had a break at all since the pandemic began.’

Schools will be allowed to finish term on Thursday next week, but there may be one less scheduled inset day in 2021 if they decide to do this, Mr Gibb said. 

In Scotland, EIS Edinburgh secretary Alison Murphy has urged education chiefs and councillors to allow remote teaching on December 21 and 22.

Pictured: Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb

Pictured: Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb

She said many people in other jobs were able to book leave to give them time to isolate before going to see vulnerable relatives at Christmas.  

There was no such option for those working in schools, she said. 

Ms Murphy added: ‘There will be lots of families who have not seen elderly relatives for months.

‘If a child is in school on the 22nd and there’s a case that day that family will have to self-isolate, they’re not seeing granny.

‘Or potentially even worse, there is a case on the 22nd, they go to see granny on the 23rd and they find out on the 25th when they’re with granny and possibly they have exposed granny.

‘Failing to move to remote learning for the last two days of term, will be the final straw for many.’

On behalf of the EIS, Ms Murphy wrote to Edinburgh education chiefs and councillors, stressing they are not asking for a longer holiday but urging them to agree to remote learning.

She said she believed many parents would keep their children off these days anyway.

In an email, she warned that if schools did remain open on these dates ‘many staff will be forced to choose between putting their loved ones at risk or not taking advantage of the opportunity to see vulnerable family members’.

‘This is not a choice anyone should be forced to make when an alternative is available,’ she added.  

Ms Murphy warned that families in Edinburgh could find their Christmas ‘ruined if there is a positive case in the school in the last couple of days.’  

‘Moving to remote learning for the Monday and Tuesday would lessen the chances of disruption,’ she said.

In a further email to education bosses and councillors, Ms Murphy acknowledged that council officials had worked hard to support schools, but said schools are ‘some of the least Covid-secure workplaces going’.

She added: ‘In primary and special schools, it is frankly impossible to maintain any physical distancing.

Meanwhile, a teachers' union in Scotland is pleading for staff to be able to work from home on the last two days of term so they can spend Christmas with their families without worrying about coronavirus. Pictured: Stock image

Meanwhile, a teachers’ union in Scotland is pleading for staff to be able to work from home on the last two days of term so they can spend Christmas with their families without worrying about coronavirus. Pictured: Stock image

‘And ventilation is a continuing worry that council officers are working hard to address but that is not amenable to easy solutions.’

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: ‘No decision has been taken to change current school arrangements at this stage.’     

It comes after academy chain Focus Trust, which runs 15 schools in the North West of England and West Yorkshire, was forced to reverse its plan to extend the Christmas break by an extra week to safeguard staff and families following a Government intervention last month.

Mr Whiteman said: ‘Some families and schools will still regard this as insufficient to meet their needs, and it may still force some hasty reorganisation of activities in the last week of term, which could have been avoided if the Government had been more proactive.’

He added: ‘A chaotic and disruptive end of term is still possible, especially in areas where there are large numbers of Covid cases and high levels of staff and pupil absence already.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘We recognise the Government has made a small concession, but we had hoped it would allow more flexibility than has been granted.

‘A single day is better than nothing, but it still means that school and college leaders will have to continue contact tracing in the event of positive cases through to Wednesday December 23.

‘It also leaves them responsible, at very short notice, for informing families that they will need to self-isolate over the Christmas period.

‘It is frustrating also that the Government has taken so long to agree this decision as there is so little time left for schools to make the necessary arrangements.’

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