Government orders London schools to stay OPEN and hits council leaders with legal notice if they refuse

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says kids must stay in classes in Greenwich after a rogue Labour council demanded schools shut.

Officials from the Department for Education (DfE) say Mr Williamson has issued a temporary continuity direction to Greenwich council.

If the council ignores the letter, the direction will be enforced through a High Court injunction.

Islington council, which made a similar request to schools today, has not received a letter from the DfE yet.

However, the body says the Regional Schools Commissioner had spoken with the local authority. 

Mr Williamson said tonight: “It is simply not in children’s best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors.

“I have always been clear that using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority. 

“That’s why I won’t hesitate to do what is right for young people and have issued a direction to Greenwich Council setting out that they must withdraw the letter issued to headteachers on Sunday.”

Parents were left furious after hundreds of schools said they’d close – leaving mums and dads no notice to find alternatives for their children.

Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe said yesterday Public Health England had advised the authority to shut all 133 schools as Covid cases were “escalating extremely quickly”.

Then today, Islington Council advised schools to move to online learning from Wednesday morning because of a serious rise in coronavirus cases across London.

The capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan called for all schools to close in the capital amid a surge of cases in the city.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, he said “urgent consideration must…be given to closing secondary schools, sixth form and FE colleges a few days early and keeping them closed for longer after Christmas”.

But the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to keeping schools open.

It can take legal action against councils which shut schools under the Coronavirus Act, which allows officials to issue ‘directions’ to headteachers during the pandemic.

It is understood that directions under the act would only be used as a last resort, while a court order would be sought if they were not followed.

Last night, DfE said it was their “strong expectation” that children will continue going to class, despite rising cases.

Full list of places going into Tier 3 on Wednesday

S &  W Essex:

  • Basildon
  • Brentwood
  • Harlow
  • Epping Forest
  • Castle Point
  • Rochford
  • Braintree & Chelmsford
  • Thurrock and South End on Sea Borough councils 
  • Maldon

Hertfordshire:

  • Broxbourne
  • Heartsmere
  • Watford and the three river local authority

All of London

It was announced today that the capital – along with parts of Essex and Hertfordshire – will move into Tier 3 measures on Wednesday.

Under the tier, shops and gyms can remain open, but all hospitality venues – including restaurants, pubs and bars – must shut.