Sadiq Khan urges PM to let London schools close early to combat Covid

The mayor of London has urged the prime minister to consider letting schools across the capital close early this week and remain shut for longer after Christmas to slow infection rates.

In a plea for extra help for the capital, where there has been a rapid surge in cases, Sadiq Khan said “urgent consideration” should be given to closing secondary schools, sixth form and further education (FE) colleges before the end of term and moving lessons online.

He called for mass testing to be made available at all London schools this week, followed by regular testing in January. Currently testing is being targeted at schools in seven boroughs with the highest infection rates.

Khan also called for face coverings to be made mandatory in busy public places crowded with Christmas shoppers.

The letter, also signed by the chair of London Councils, Georgia Gould, said the biggest spread of the virus in the capital was within education settings, particularly among pupils aged 10 to 19. It called for additional resources to support online learning and further catch-up provision.

“London now has 17 local authorities where the seven-day case rate exceeds 200 cases per 100,000, and the seven-day case rate has risen in 32 local authorities compared to the previous week,” the letter said.

“Levels of testing in London remain the lowest in England and it is vital that asymptomatic testing is extended at a minimum to all Londoners who are unable to work from home, and to all pupils at secondary schools, sixth form and FE colleges this week, so that positive cases are able to self-isolate and prevent ongoing transmission to people in their communities.”

Kahn’s letter will add to growing pressure on the government to follow Wales by allowing secondary schools to close early to all apart from the children of key workers and those classed as vulnerable.

The leader of Greenwich council took matters into his own hands over the weekend and advised all schools in the borough to move online from Monday evening until the end of term despite government threats of legal action should headteachers try to close before the end of term.

The council leader, Dan Thorpe, said the authority had no choice after seeing “exponential growth” in cases in the area.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed Khan’s intervention and urged other councils to follow Greenwich’s lead.

“The government should have been planning for this weeks ago,” he said. “They have now started to recognise the blindingly obvious fact that transmission is happening in schools and that this can spread to families. But the government now needs to act. Much more is needed to control the virus in schools and to protect communities.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described the situation as chaotic. He said: “Although it is now incredibly late in the day, the government must remove the threat of legal action and allow schools to make the decisions they need to make on behalf of their staff and children.”

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