Cabinet minister Grant Shapps today urged schools to let Christmas events happen as Number 10 insisted that they ‘can go ahead’, despite a string of cancellations in recent days amid coronavirus fears.
The Transport Secretary was asked this morning about whether events such as nativity plays should be allowed to continue despite the threat posed by Covid-19.
There are fresh fears about the virus following the emergence of the Nu mutation from southern Africa. It has been described as the ‘worst ever’ variant of the disease.
Some headteachers have this week banned parents from attending events or have cancelled fayres and nativity plays entirely due to rising Covid cases.
A school in Plymouth said on Twitter that they had ‘sadly’ decided to cancel their Christmas fayre, whilst others in Essex in Dorset did the same with their nativity plays, or allowed them to go ahead whilst banning parents from attending.
However, Mr Shapps insisted to LBC that nativity plays should ‘play on’ because the country did not go through ‘two, now three rounds of vaccination’ to have to ‘live out last Christmas again’.
His comment was a reference to how families were separated last year and unable to spend Christmas together, whilst many schools were closed and events cancelled in the weeks prior due to infections among pupils.
Mr Shapps’s comments were echoed by the Prime Minister’s spokesman, who said that whilst cancellations were ‘a matter for individual schools’, Government guidance states that schools ‘can continue to hold events’ with parents present.
A blog post released on the Department for Education’s website on Friday also insisted that plays could go ahead, saying that they are ‘one of our most cherished traditions’.
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps today urged schools to let Christmas events happen as Number 10 insisted that they ‘can go ahead’, despite a string of cancellations in recent days amid coronavirus fears
Mr Shapps told LBC this morning: ‘We did not go through two, now three rounds of vaccination and everything else to have to live out last Christmas again when we weren’t able to get together as we should have done, in the numbers we should have done, with our friends and families.
‘So of course steps will be taken no doubt to make them as safe as possible, ventilation and the rest of it. Yes people should be able to get together.’
The PM’s spokesman later added: ‘It is a matter for individual schools to decide if they want to host nativity plays this year.
‘We have set out our guidance to schools that states they can continue to hold events where visitors such as parents are on site, which includes things like school plays.
‘Our guidance is clear there is no limit on group size for these events either indoor or outdoor. But ultimately it is a matter for individual schools.’
The blog on the Department for Education’s website said: ‘Christmas and nativity plays are one of our most cherished school traditions.
One school, Lipson Co-operative Academy in Plymouth, said they were cancelling their ‘Christmas Fayre’
‘Sadly last year many had to be cancelled but this year, as we are at a different stage of the pandemic and so many people are benefitting from the protections the vaccines offer, we hope many more will be able to go ahead.’
They added: ‘Nativities, plays, concerts and other festive events can go ahead but it is a matter for schools and early years to decide if they want to host them.
‘Our guidance has not changed and says schools, nurseries and other settings can continue to hold events where visitors such as parents are on-site.
However, the post said that schools should take precautions to try to lessen the threat of the virus, including by improving ‘fresh air flow’.
Children and parents have this week faced disappointment over the decision of some headteachers to cancel Christmas events.
One school, Lipson Co-operative Academy in Plymouth, said on Friday they were cancelling their ‘Christmas Fayre’.
A post on Twitter read: ‘With the rise in #COVID19 cases in school and our community, we’ve decided sadly to cancel our Christmas Fayre, set for this Saturday, November 27.
‘A hard decision, in many ways, but the right one. Let’s stay safe now and we’ll maybe have a Spring Fayre instead.’
Earlier this week, parents elsewhere reacted with fury when it emerged that a school in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, said they were cancelling Christmas fun and games.
Reynolds Academy, a mixed primary with 420 youngsters aged three to 11, run by the Tollbar Multi Academy Trust, said it had ‘had to take the measures with a heavy heart’.
An upset parent said in response: ‘Boris says nothing has changed. But now it is back to staggered times, bubbles, dinners in classroom and queuing for the designated toilet cubicle.
‘It is the mixed messages which are making people angry. We are all told to get jabbed, get a booster and life will go back to normal.
‘Parents are angry on behalf of their kids because on Friday they were all given their roles in the Nativity and were practising their lines.
Some headteachers have this week banned parents from attending events or have cancelled fayres and nativity plays entirely due to rising Covid cases
School children said on the BBC’s Newsround site that their nativity plays were being performed behind closed doors and instead being filmed for parents
‘But after the weekend it is all off. All the after school clubs in music and everything are off.
‘The worst thing was on Monday having to book time off work so that we could go to the Nativity and by the end of the day being told it was cancelled.
‘The children are gutted there is going to be no Christmas play or parties. For some it would have been their last one and they all missed out last year too.’
School principal Rebecca Scott said cancelling Christmas events and reintroducing social distancing has been forced by ‘a significant rise’ in the number of Covid cases within the academy and the local area.
Whitmore Primary School in Essex last week said it was cancelling its in-person end-of-term performance.
Instead they said each class would have to perform its own play which would be recorded for parents. They said the measure was necessary to ‘prevent the spread of Covid’.
At Wyke Regis Primary Federation in Dorset, all Christmas activities are set to be limited to ‘in-school only and will be shared online with parents’.
Cranborne Primary School in Hertfordshire have also told parents that they can only watch their nativity play remotely.
Yesterday, schools minister Robin Walker said schools should hold nativity plays despite the Covid concerns.
Mr Walker said: ‘I want to see schools continuing to engage with parents in as constructive a way as they possibly can.
‘Of course, where they can go ahead safely, things like Nativity plays and end-of-term shows are really important and a good way of doing that. I would want to see as many going forward as possible.’
But he added: ‘I understand there will be schools that feel that they have to take extra precautions and particularly when it’s about adults coming into a school… they need to be able to look at their local circumstances.
‘They need to be able to work with the local directors of public health who will have a feel for the local situation. And I respect that that’s going to be different in different parts of the country.’
School leaders’ union NAHT said some of its members had this year moved Nativities and festive celebrations online or to video-only, because of rising cases in their area.
Mr Walker said: ‘I recognise – and I had to do that last year – in these circumstances sometimes they will feel it’s safer for the children to go ahead with a performance and the parents to watch it remotely. That has been part of the reality that we’ve all been through.’
James Bowen, director of policy for NAHT, said: ‘There is nothing schools want more than to have a hall full of families enjoying the children putting on their festive show.
‘However, they have so many things to balance when deciding what to do this year. Schools will be listening carefully to the advice being given by the public health teams and local authorities and putting the appropriate measures in place based on that advice.’
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Leaders will be realistic about the significant challenges they continue to face in tackling the disruption to normal school life…
‘Some may, reluctantly, decide to cancel shows but the technology that has played such a vital role in education during the pandemic also offers schools the opportunity to stage virtual performances.’