London Council Backs Down Over School Closures

London Council Backs Down Over School Closures
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson attends a Cabinet meeting of senior government ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on Sept. 1, 2020. (Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Greenwich council has backed down over its plan to close schools in the London borough due to a rise in positive CCP virus test results after the education secretary ordered them to stay open.

Labour leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich council, Danny Thorpe, had written to parents and headteachers on Sunday, informing them that the schools in the borough would close as of the end of the school day on Monday and move to online learning for the remainder of the term. Schools in Islington and Waltham Forest were also advised to move to online learning.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson intervened on Monday by issuing a continuity direction (pdf), ordering schools in the borough to stay open and the letters to be withdrawn. Williamson gave the council until 10 a.m. the following day to comply or he would apply for a court injunction. Williamson stated that he didn't rule out legal action but that it would only be used as a "last resort."
"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," Williamson reportedly said in a statement.

"It is simply not in children's best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors."

The direction was issued by the Department of Eduction under the powers of the Coronavirus Act, and would have given Williamson the power to challenge Greenwich council in either the County Court or the High Court.

It was initially believed Thorpe would challenge the direction, seeking legal advice to do so, but in a statement on issued on Tuesday, Thorpe confirmed he would reluctantly comply with the continuity direction stating that he "cannot justify the use of public funds to fight the decision in the courts."

"Consequently, I have no choice but to ask our schools to keep their doors open to all students rather than just continuing with online learning," he said.

The move comes as the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the closure of secondary schools and colleges in all of London's 32 boroughs amid fears over a rise in positive CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus test results, which will see London move into the Tier 3 CCP virus restrictions on Wednesday after a government review earlier this week.