Education Secretary’s alphabet soup of school reopening plans


Dear pupils, welcome back. Or should that be I hope to see you soon. Maybe on January 11, January 18 or another random date, depending on the latest ministerial edict.

All those wearing odd-numbered football shirts can have an extra week’s holiday. Those in even-numbered shirts must start remote learning immediately. That way, we have enough Government-funded laptops to go round.

And by the way, we need to test all secondary students for coronavirus twice before you return to the classroom. Slight hitch as we’re still waiting on the delivery of the lateral flow kits. They’ve got delayed in Royal Mail’s Christmas backlog. Just ringing the Army helpline now.

What a farce. I spent a good hour or so earlier this week shouting at images of Gavin Williamson on the telly as he unveiled an alphabet soup of school reopening plans.

He’d managed to pick my day off to make his announcement. I guess I got off lightly – headteachers were actually on holiday when they had to drop everything and act on his revised instructions.

Don’t forget we’d already had a last-minute plan, unveiled just as schools were breaking up for the Christmas hols.

But our Gav had failed to factor in the new mutant variant of coronavirus. The one which seems to be particularly prevalent among young people.

By the time he got round to making his statement to Parliament, we already knew 78 per cent of England’s population was being placed in Tier 4.

Minutes later, 78 per cent of the country had no idea whether their local primary schools would be closed indefinitely or returning as normal on January 4.

That’s because the crucial list of Tier 4 ‘hotspots’ – the areas where reopening of primary schools would be delayed – had not actually been published. I had to file my story for deadline by glossing over primary schools entirely.

It was a good hour before we finally got hold of the list. It was hidden in an online document on the Government’s website called ‘contingency framework implementation guidance’.

Who knew? Certainly not all the journalists, school staff and parents frantically trying to find out what was happening.

A source, who managed to track it down, texted me to say: “The list seems to bear very little relationship to the Tier 4 list.” Oh.

Anyway, it turned out Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Cheshire East primary schools were still expected to reopen on Monday.

Welcome back to all you four to 11-year-olds (apart from those in Year 7 – we’ll see you on January 18).

Hope you had a nice break. Let’s hope we can wait at least a week before having to send any bubbles home again.

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What? No, we’re not testing you or your teachers until late January. The mass roll-out of lateral flow testing means primaries will have to fend for themselves for the first few weeks.

I can’t help feeling sorry for everyone who works in a school.

The Government has done its usual trick of making announcements on the hop, with little or no notice to implement the decisions.

But those who are losing out the most are pupils. They’ve had months and months of disruption to their education.

In my own family, I’ve got one nephew in Year 10 who just completed his fourth period of self-isolation in time for the last day of the autumn term. Now he’s found out he won’t be back at school for another two weeks.

His older brother is in his first year at university and was expecting to start back on January 4.

But a throwaway line in Gavin Williamson’s announcement revealed that universities would also have to change their staggered return dates. It threw my nephew’s travel plans out by three weeks.

Let’s all take a deep breath and try to relax. After all, the Department for Education can’t be any more shambolic in 2021. Can it?





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