Education Minister Nadim Zahawi said his “very strong advice” was for Christmas plays to continue at school, despite Omicron’s new alternative to Covid-19.
The discovery of the new variant in England has led to the reintroduction of masks in public areas for staff in all schools and for students of Year 7 and above from today.
The change was announced in an email to the chiefs on Sunday, following a national government press conference on the new alternative the night before.
But just hours before the Downing Street briefing on Saturday, the Department of Education tweeted a link to a blog stating that it hopes to hold “several ‘festive’ events this year” because we are in a different phase of the pandemic.”
As parents look forward to attending their child’s next birthday, play or concert, we explain why these festive events will continue this year. https://t.co/mUucnARUpZ
– Ministry of Education (educationgovuk) November 27, 2021
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Today we talk on ITV’s This morningAl-Zahawi said his “strong advice” was for Christmas plays to continue, while school closures should only be considered as a last resort.
He said: My strong advice is if you are [are] Birth planning, keep going.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance confirmed this position, saying:Our position on birthday plays has not changed – it is still up to the schools, in line with our guidance, to decide whether they want theatrical performances to continue.
“Our current guidance now states that visitors to secondary schools must wear masks.”
But school leaders described the Ministry of Education’s position as “disappointing”.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said DrDecisions about whether to proceed with in-person events such as nativity plays and mock exams will be made on the basis of risk assessments, and in line with local and national guidance.
“This is a rapidly developing and evolving situation,” she added.
“It is frustrating that the Ministry of Education … has said it can move forward if schools decide if they want to host it.
“This is an issue being decided in response to the circumstances of a global pandemic that is causing great concern and disruption. It is not something that is decided on a whim.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT School Leaders Association, said in an email to members that the DfE tweet and blog were “poorly judged.”
“I am also aware of a poorly judged tweet published by the Ministry of Education on Saturday morning regarding the school’s birth,” he said.
“He was not very helpful even before the government’s press conference on Saturday.
“School leaders are making difficult decisions about births based on the guidance they have received from their local health teams,” he added.
“The intervention of the Ministry of Finance on Saturday was unnecessary and scandalous. We have made that clear.”
Here’s what you need to know about schools and nurseries that hold babies, plays, concerts and other festive events where visitors like parents are invited to attend. https://t.co/mUucnARUpZ
– Ministry of Education (educationgovuk) November 26, 2021
Leaders caught between a “hammer and an anvil” over births
James Bowen, NAHT’s director of policy, said school births were a “special occasion” for pupils, families and staff and that “there is nothing schools want more” than moving forward.
But he said the leaders are “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, Dealing with diverse advice from local authorities, central government and a wide range of parenting opinions.
He added: “Schools will listen carefully to advice from public health teams and local authorities and will put appropriate procedures in place based on that advice. When this means that parents are unable to attend, we already know that many schools are already exploring other options so families have access to A form of “birth experience”.
“Everyone is hoping this will be the last year where restrictions will be necessary.”
Some schools have already decided to cancel Christmas parties or move them online, ahead of the latest advice from the DfE, due to a spike in Covid cases in their districts.
Tell Andy Byers, Principal of Framwellgate School in Durham is yoursThere is a lot of contradictory advice at the moment.
“Masks for public areas but it’s business as usual. I’m not sure about the Christmas plays…but we’ve canceled the Christmas party (which took place before this weekend) and our parents’ online evenings.”
Late and contradictory messages.
Ross McMullen, one of the founding members of the School Principals Round Table, said: “One thing we seem to have learned is that messages will be delayed and contradicted.
“We have a DfE who has been willing to take legal action.” [in 2020] To prevent schools from closing, when that was clearly the right call, who insisted that they open after the Christmas holidays, only to close them a day later, a day which may have been responsible for much of the dispatch.”
“I doubt that there is a school principal in the country who feels confident and secure in any statements,” she said.