Hundreds of North Staffordshire residents have signed a petition calling for schools to shut early for Christmas.
Campaigners want schools to close from December 9 so that all pupils and staff would have the chance to isolate for two weeks before meeting up with family or friends over the festive period.
Many fear that positive cases in schools in the final weeks of term will mean families having to quarantine at Christmas, or unknowingly spreading the virus to elderly and vulnerable relatives during that time.
The petition, titled ‘Implement a two week school lockdown before 24 December to save Christmas’ has amassed more than 120,000 signatures, above the 100,000 needed to spark a debate in Parliament.
Those to add their names include 684 in Stoke-on-Trent, 184 in the Staffordshire Moorlands, 175 in Newcastle-under-lyme, 208 in Stone and 206 in Stafford.
But the Department for Education has been quick to respond, stressing it ‘remains a national priority to keep schools open full time and and avoid further disruption to education’.
The government has already shot down the attempt of one education trust in Manchester to close earlier than planned.
One mum who has signed the petition revealed she is planning to take her son out of school early.
She said: “Considering in our primary school, there are five of the seven year groups already self isolating, I very much doubt those parents will return their children to school.
“My son is one of the classes remaining and I fully intend to remove him on 11 December.
“I won’t be the only parent. There are parents that are already not sending their children in due to the amount of bubbles that are closed.”
The mum-of-seven, who has a child at primary, one at high school, one at university, as well as older children, added: “This is a good school and Covid regulations are really adhered to, but this last week there have been five of the seven regular classes closed. It just leaves reception, Year 3 and the two support classes open.
“I messaged the head yesterday with my concerns. I am fed up of hearing ‘it is being brought in by the community’ as an excuse to keep the schools open.
“I totally understand that. A parent has Covid, then the child gets it and it’s then in school and the bubble closes – so it is not originating from school. My point is, if the schools were closed – as per last time – or just open for those who wanted to send their children, then there would not be so many bubbles self isolating.
“The community is taking into the schools, putting the teachers and other children at risk. And it’s not fair.”
Given the number of signatures, it is likely the issue will be debate in Parliament.
But the DfE has been quick to respond, saying the government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan makes it clear that ‘nurseries, schools and colleges should not change their Christmas holidays or close early this term’.
Ministers are adamant that ‘school is the best place for children to learn, and it is important for their mental wellbeing to have social interactions with their peers, carers and teachers’.
Responding to the petition, it said: “Parents should continue to send their children to school during term time and students should continue to attend college right up until the end of term.
“A time-limited change to social restrictions over Christmas does not require any children to be taken out of school prematurely. The leaders and staff of education settings have been doing an extraordinary job to remain open, keep settings safe and provide education.
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“Returning to school full time has been vital for children’s education and for their wellbeing. Time out of school is detrimental for children’s cognitive and academic development, particularly for disadvantaged children. This impact can affect both current levels of education, children’s future ability to learn and preparation for those studying exams next summer.”
MP Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, urged parents to keep their children in school until the end of term.
He said: “Schools have gone to great lengths to increase the amount of teaching time and exams have been delayed by three weeks to give them time to catch up, pupils need that week in school.
“To take away a week from students who have had their education disrupted over the course of this year, it’s not something I’d advise.”
He added: “They’re happier in school, they like being with their friends, it’s better for their mental health and wellbeing.
“Some have been at home an inordinate amount of time this year. We want children to enjoy Christmas but to do so once it starts properly.”
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