Covid: Schools in England can close for Christmas a day early

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Schools in England will be allowed to close a day early for Christmas to give teachers "a proper break" from identifying potential Covid-19 cases.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs that schools could schedule an inset day next Friday to allow "six clear days" before Christmas Eve.

He said this would ensure teachers and heads do not have to engage with "track and trace issues" throughout the break.

Teachers unions have been calling for flexibility over school term dates.

Last month, the government had told schools in England not to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term in its Covid-19 Winter Plan.

Speaking to a virtual education select committee, Mr Gibb said: "We are about to announce that inset days can be used on Friday December 18, even if an inset day had not been originally scheduled for that day.

"We want there to be a clear six days so that, by the time we reach Christmas Eve, staff can have a proper break without having to engage in the track and trace issues."

Inset days - or in-service training days - mean teachers will be in schools for professional development but pupils will be absent.

Unions have been asking for the government to give schools the flexibility to switch to remote learning for the final few days of term and reduce the risk of pupils and staff having to self-isolate over Christmas.

Mr Gibb said that the government wanted schools to stay open until the end of term as it was the "best place for young people for their education", development and for their mental health.

But he added: "We want to make sure that they (school staff) can have a proper break over Christmas. We know they've been under huge stress.

"I don't think some of these senior leadership teams of schools have had a break at all since the pandemic began."

Schools will be allowed to finish term on Thursday next week, but there may be one less scheduled inset day in 2021 if they decide to do this, Mr Gibb added.

'Better than nothing'

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), described the announcement of an inset day as a "small concession", saying they had hoped for "more flexibility than has been granted".

"A single day is better than nothing, but it still means that school and college leaders will have to continue contact tracing in the event of positive cases through to Wednesday December 23," he said.

"It also leaves them responsible, at very short notice, for informing families that they will need to self-isolate over the Christmas period."

He added that it was "frustrating" the government had taken so long to agree the decision as there was "so little time left for schools to make the necessary arrangements".

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said the move could still be "insufficient" to meet the needs of some families and schools.

He added: "A chaotic and disruptive end of term is still possible, especially in areas where there are large numbers of Covid cases and high levels of staff and pupil absence already."