Schools in Greenwich have been asked to close after Monday (Picture: Getty Images)
There are growing calls for teaching to be moved online amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
Headteachers say secondary pupils should now be taught remotely in London, Kent and Essex, where pupils are set to undergo mass testing for Covid-19 as cases rise.
The leaders of the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the Association of College Leaders (ASCL) have united to demand Education Secretary Gavin Williamson take action to avoid more pupils, staff and their families becoming ill.
The intervention came before an East London council asked local schools to close from Monday because of an ‘exponential growth in cases’. In a letter to parents on Sunday, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said ‘immediate action’ was required to stop the spread.
Nationally, the General Secretaries of the NAHT and ASCL, Paul Whiteman and Geoff Barton, said in the letter to Mr Williamson: ‘We have to now question why the government has apparently ignored the option of moving to remote education in the areas of London, Kent, and Essex where high infection rates have triggered the decision to carry out mass testing of secondary-age pupils.
‘We must also raise the concerns of many of our members in other areas of England where infection rates are high over why the government is failing to take similar action in these areas too.
There is a very strong feeling that this is an example of a north/ south divide with the government more alert to what is happening in London and the south east than it is about what is happening in other regions.’
Children were home schooled during the first lockdown (Picture: Getty Images)
Experts have repeatedly said that children in secondary schools are old enough to spread the virus, which poses risks to their families and staff and is thought to be one of the reasons cases are growing.
The pair called for remote learning in the three southern areas and continued: ‘There seems to us to be a question mark over the sense in having all pupils in school given the clear risk that has been identified of infection transmission amongst this age group.
‘It is also about the wider public health consideration in reducing the risk of transmission within families and to school staff.’
Mr Whiteman and Barton also highlighted the ‘inevitable’ mixing among students on the way to and from school as another cause for concern.
During England’s second lockdown, schools were shut, but in the first national lockdown they were closed.
Meanwhile, Greenwich Council leader Mr Thorpe said infection rates were at the highest they had been since March and that he was telling schools to shut to slow the spread.
Mr Thorpe said: ‘I wouldn’t be asking for this unless the risk was extreme, but with numbers rising so rapidly it is clear action is needed.
‘We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown).’
The Government have repeatedly said schools must remain open as a ‘national priority’ – a position echoed by the Labour party. Schools have even been threatened with legal action.
But Labour councillor Mr Thorpe said: ‘This is honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as leader.
‘The Department for Education are clear this isn’t their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools.
‘However, I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted the Department of Education for comment.
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