Schools will be allowed to shut a day early so staff have a “proper break” from identifying potential coronavirus cases ahead of Christmas.
Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the government wants to ensure a “clear six days” before Christmas Eve so heads and teachers do not have to “engage with track and trace issues” throughout the festive break. It would also allow staff enough time to self-isolate if they come into contact with a positive coronavirus case before being free to enjoy Christmas Eve.
Teachers are expected to be available for the first six days of the festive holidays to help with contact tracing and informing families if they need to isolate. Previously, they had been told that they must expect to be on call right up to the 24th December 2020 to help with track-and-trace in the event that a coronavirus outbreak was identified in their school.
Over recent weeks, teaching unions have been urging the government to provide schools with the flexibility to use remote learning for the final few days of term in an effort to reduce the risk of students and staff having to self-isolate over Christmas. They’ve also warned that attendance rates could drop in the final week if parents take children out early to prepare for a family Christmas.
Up to 650,000 state school pupils missed school on 3rd December due to coronavirus - between 7% and 8% of pupils, according to the latest figures published by the Department for Education.
Despite these figures, the minister has rejected the idea of remote learning and wants schools to remain open until the end of term as it was the "best place for young people for their education" and for their mental health.
As a compromise, 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.
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 23rd December 2020.”