A minister has said the government “will consider” using its powers under emergency Coronavirus legislation to keep Greenwich schools open, after the London borough asked leaders to move to remote education for the rest of the week.
In a letter to Greenwich headteachers, seen by Schools Week, Gibb said he was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the “unilateral stance” taken by Greenwich Council and its “potentially serious impact on schools, parents and children, not just in Greenwich but also in surrounding authorities”.
He said the government had the power under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to direct schools to remain open, adding: “We will consider using those powers in this instance.”
On Sunday the leader of Greenwich council Dan Thorpe appealed to schools across the borough to close to most pupils from this evening in the face of “exponential growth” of Covid cases.
But in his letter to leaders, Gibb said that despite rising case numbers, “we not in a position where the scientific and public health advice supports implementation of measures to restrict access to schools for children in Greenwich”.
He added that the country had seen that “many areas with much higher transmission rates than those in Greenwich have kept their schools open”.
There has been a growing rift between the government and headteachers over when schools break up for Christmas, with ministers seizing control of the restrictive measures schools can apply to fight the spread of Covid-19.
Under the government’s new contingency framework, schools were told they could not implement restrictive measures “without the explicit agreement of DfE”.
Concluding his letter to Greenwich heads, Gibb said there was “no place in our response to this pandemic for unilateral action such as Greenwich Council has taken and we must keep schools open for face to face education”.
“Under schedule 17 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the secretary of state may make a direction to require schools to enable all pupils to attend full time, other than pupils who are required to self-isolate in accordance with the schools’ opening guidance. We will consider using those powers in this instance.”