Primary schools in Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford will move to remote learning on Tuesday 5 January while the County Council seeks urgent clarity from the Department for Education (DfE) on the current position on Primary schools reopening in north Essex, amid rising Covid-19 infection levels in the area.
All schools in Essex at primary and secondary level will be either closed tomorrow (Monday 4 January) for a PD day, or will implement remote learning.
Primary schools in Colchester, Tendring and Uttlesford were to re-open on Tuesday. Schools in these three districts were the only primary schools in Essex due to re-open, with the rest of the County’s primary schools remaining closed until Monday 18 January.
The County Council has today (Sunday 3 January) written to primary school heads in the three districts to tell them to move to remote learning on Tuesday 5 January, while clarity is sought on the criteria for reopening. The move has the support of the County Council’s Director of Public Health and regional Public Health England.
Under DfE rules, schools can be included in a ‘contingency framework’ which means they will operate on a remote learning basis if there are high levels of infection locally and pressure on local health services. All primary schools across the rest of Essex are already included in the contingency framework, because of high infection levels elsewhere in the County.
If the North Essex districts were included in the framework, it would mean that all primary schools in Essex would move to remote learning until at least Monday 18 January, with the exception of critical worker and vulnerable children.
In a letter sent today (Sunday 3 January) to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, Essex County Council Leader, Cllr David Finch, said:
“You will be aware that on the 30 December 2020 the Essex Resilience Forum Strategic Co-ordination Group declared a ‘major incident’ in respect of the health system in Essex.
“In addition, the latest COVID19 case data indicates that over the past week:
• Across the district of Uttlesford, cases have increased by 55%
• Across the district of Tendring, case rates have increased by 28%
• Across the district of Colchester, case rates have increased by 23%
“As a result of the change in these two factors, I am seeking an urgent review of the position with respect of these three districts and to request that they are placed into the contingency framework with immediate effect.
“I would appreciate an urgent dialogue with Ministers tomorrow (4 January 2021) in order that we can advise our primary schools and their parents on the outcome of this review. In the meantime, we have advised all primary schools within these three districts to move to remote education for the majority of pupils on Monday the 4th and Tuesday 5th January 2021, in order that this urgent review can take place.
“I appreciate that the implementation of the Contingency framework is an absolute last resort action by your department, but as the data indicates, the chain of transmission across Essex continues to increase and we require all available support and assistance to break the chain and to bring this despicable virus under control. I would only make this request under these extremely challenging circumstances.”
Cllr Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “It makes sense given the rising levels of infection in North Essex and the major incident in Essex’s health system that the position of primaries in North Essex is reviewed by the DfE. This is what happened in London at the end of last week, with the result that all Primary schools in the capital were brought into the contingency framework. This is essentially Essex’s ask – we want to be treated consistently, especially given rising infection levels in the areas concerned.”