The Government has banned schools from breaking up early for Christmas and urged parents not to take children out of lessons ‘prematurely’.
Its tough stance comes despite growing calls to switch to online learning for the last two weeks of term to help reduce coronavirus levels.
More than 1,700 people across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire have now signed a national petition, demanding a ‘school lockdown’ from December 9.
But the Government’s new Covid-19 winter plan has doubled down on the policy of keeping schools open during the pandemic.
It states: “Nurseries, schools and colleges should not change their Christmas holidays or close early this term.
“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. Our senior clinicians continue to advise that the best place for children and young people is in education.”
The guidance comes as an academy chain with schools in Manchester and West Yorkshire has been forced to abandon its plans to break up a week early.
A regional schools commissioner intervened after Focus Trust said it was extending the Christmas holidays to ‘safeguard the well-being of staff and pupils’ and ‘protect precious family time’.
But the Government is allowing universities to switch to remote learning before the end of term. University students are being given staggered departure dates between December 3 and 9.
The petition calling for schools to move all lessons online in the run-up to Christmas has already topped 99,000 signatures nationally.
This includes 806 people across the three Stoke-on-Trent parliamentary constituencies, 171 from Newcastle, 144 from Staffordshire Moorlands, 162 from Stone and 161 from Stafford.
In South Cheshire, it has also been signed by 165 people in the Crewe and Nantwich constituency and 157 from Congleton.
StokeonTrentLive readers are split on the issue.
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Posting on our Facebook page, Jo Heath said: “I’m pulling my children out from the 10th. As a household, we’ve had the virus, but I’m not prepared to risk someone in their bubble testing positive, which means a 14-day isolation period.”
Kelly Doble added: “Given that we are having Christmas bubbles and children rarely show symptoms, I think it would be a good idea for them to finish a bit earlier.”
Lisa Anderson Karklins acknowledged children have already missed a lot of school. But she said: “Keeping the virus at bay and people’s lives are much more important.
“Kids are more resilient than people actually give them credit for. They’ll bounce back. So yes, schools absolutely should close. It might just get things back under control.”
But others feel a two-week switch to remote learning would be impractical for parents who can’t work from home.
StokeonTrentLive reader Dave Mountford quipped: “I’m sure my kids will love looking at boilers with me all day.”
Gemma Howles is also against a school ‘circuit breaker’.
She said: “Kids have missed out on so much this year and school is the only other interaction my daughter gets with other children. Plus, as a family, we can’t afford to take time off work.”
The Government’s winter plan has been published just as it has also quietly dropped its four-tier Covid-19 framework for schools introduced in August.
Under the arrangements, secondary schools in areas with higher infection rates would have switched to teaching pupils under a rota system. At Tier 4, only vulnerable pupils and those from key worker families would have been in school.
But in reality, no schools moved beyond the lowest education tier.