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Education Secretary to hold talks with school leaders amid coronavirus pandemic

Gavin Williamson is expected to meet union representatives on Monday.

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The Prime Minister said on Thursday that closures now could do ‘more harm than good’ (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Prime Minister said on Thursday that closures now could do ‘more harm than good’ (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Prime Minister said on Thursday that closures now could do ‘more harm than good’ (Danny Lawson/PA)

School leaders are due to meet the Education Secretary to discuss the implications of schools being closed and exams being postponed, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gavin Williamson is expected to meet representatives from the NAHT school leaders’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) on Monday.

Ahead of the meeting, Leora Cruddas, chief executive officer of CST, said teachers are working in “extremely challenging circumstances” during a “very fluid situation”.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Victoria Jones/PA)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Victoria Jones/PA)

“It is important to understand that all the big decisions about school closures, exams and the suspension of inspections can only be made by the Government,” she said.

“These are not decisions that regulators can make independently.

“CST’s top priorities, in addition to seeking clarity on these big decisions, will be about the arrangements for safeguarding and welfare of our children and young people, and in particular the most vulnerable.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said he would be raising the challenges of keeping schools open amid staff shortages, and the potential for disruption during exam season, with the Education Secretary.

He said: “We aim to work through these issues in order to arrive at constructive solutions about the way ahead.

“School and college leaders are showing calm and assured leadership in these difficult times and we can reassure the public that everything that can be done to support young people will be done.”

Ahead of the meeting, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said that although teachers were concerned about the impact on exams and assessments, the “main priority” was keeping children safe.

“Vulnerable children and families are uppermost in our minds,” he said.

“For some children a day at school is a place of sanctuary and nourishment as well as a place of education.

“Once the immediate issues are under control I am confident that school leaders and their teams will do all that they can to support children and young people throughout the remainder of the crisis.”

The meeting comes after the largest education union in Europe wrote to the Prime Minister asking for full disclosure over his decision not to shut schools amid the pandemic.

The letter, from the National Education Union, asked why the Government is not closing schools in the same way as other countries, particularly now plans are under way to ban mass gatherings.

Boris Johnson said on Thursday that closures now could do “more harm than good”, hours after Ireland announced that schools and colleges would close for a fortnight.

PA