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Published: Monday, 8th February 2021

The Royal Borough of Greenwich has backed calls for the Education Secretary to reveal why a select number of London boroughs were ordered to open their primary schools last month.

Schools in Royal Greenwich, along with nine other boroughs, were told back in December that they would have to reopen for the Spring despite having much higher rates of COVID-19 than elsewhere, which were allowed to close.  

The Department for Education has now refused to answer a Freedom of Information Act requesting the criteria used to make their initial decision.  

At the time, Royal Greenwich’s seven-day case rate was increasing. It stood at 764 cases per 100,000 people.   

That was higher than the 706 per 100,000 figure used when the decision was made by the government.   

In comparison, the London borough with the lowest rate was Kensington and Chelsea. Their rate was 496 per 100,000, but they were directed to close.  

The request response said that public interest in non-disclosure “outweighs the public interest in disclosure in this case”, and premature disclosure would likely “disrupt the future working relationships, necessary consultation and flow of ministerial advice”.  

Royal Greenwich has joined calls for an explanation having been threatened with court action in December when we took the decision to ask our schools to close for Christmas early.   

Councillor Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “As a teacher, I obviously want our children back in school and back in the classrooms, with their friends and learning with their peers. But, we have to be realistic and do what is necessary to keep each other safe.   

“It was astounding that at a time when our rates were rocketing, we were told that our children should not stay at home. Clearly, that decision was wrong and we were delighted when, having only made the decision 48-hours before, the government changed their mind.   

“It is astounding now that we are still being kept in the dark as to why that decision was made in the first place, and their refusal will further erode trust in the Department’s response. It is simply not acceptable to behave in this way and will only add to the suspicion that this bizzare decision was not based on the data. 

“It is essential that local authorities, and the public, are aware of the rationale behind the rules which are governing our lives.   

“Our schools, our parents and our vital teachers deserve the right to know that decision makers have their best interests at heart. The Prime Minister himself told the country that schools were “vectors” of transmission. Yet, we haven’t heard yet why this is no longer the case. 

“We all want a clear plan for how and when schools will reopen, and the first step towards that is for the Education Secretary to explain exactly what data they were using to justify themselves when they threatened to take us to court.  

“We will continue to push for a clear and sensible plan to get our children back into classrooms, both in the short, and the long term. That is, at the very least, what our teachers and children deserve.”