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Coronavirus closes Norfolk schools, including entire secondary school

PUBLISHED: 09:23 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 18 March 2020

Open Academy in Norwich. Pic; David Freezer.

Open Academy in Norwich. Pic; David Freezer.

Archant

One of Norfolk’s secondary schools has closed because of concern over coronavirus.

Open Academy, in Salhouse Road, which has about 600 pupils is completely shut from today (Wednesday, March 18).

A statement on the school’s website said: “Following government advice regarding coronavirus, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close Open Academy to keep our community safe, We will keep parents updated via email.”

Barbara Bryant, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust, which runs Open Academy said the closure was because of staff shortages, rather than a coronavirus case at the school.

She said: “It’s because we have staff who are having to self-isolate, based on the current government advice. We have to have a certain ratio of staff to pupils and we had reached a critical point where that was not the case, so we had to take that decision.

Scott Lyons, Norfolk NEU secretary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYScott Lyons, Norfolk NEU secretary. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“We are doing the responsible thing and it is a temporary closure until we have got sufficient staff cover in.”

On Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson had said that there would be no order for schools to close at this point, but that the situation would be kept under review.

However, with people who have symptoms including a high temperature and/or a persistent cough - along with anyone in their household - told to self isolate, a number of schools across Norfolk are struggling with staff absences.

Twenty schools had closed or partially closed as of Wednesday morning.

Binks Neate-Evans. Pic; Archant Library.Binks Neate-Evans. Pic; Archant Library.

Whitefriars Church of England Primary Academy in King’s Lynn has also shut, saying that it could no longer provide safe staffing levels in light of government guidance that vulnerable groups with specific health conditions should socially distance themselves,

Brisley Church of England Primary Academy and Goodesrtone Church of England Primary School have also closed due to staff shortages.

Other schools have partially shut due to staff absences.

Diss Infant School is closed to nursery, reception and Year 1 children, while Year 2 are being taught at Diss Church of England Junior Academy.

Fakenham Junior School is closed to pupils in class 5R, while Framingham Earl High is shut to years 8 and 9 due to staff shortages.

Gayton Church of England School is shut to EYFS, as is Middleton Church of England Primary Academy.

The reception class at Mundesley Infant School and Year 4 at Mundesley Junior School are closed, although the school said parents who work in NHS and emergency services should still send their children in.

Old Buckenham High School is shut to years 9 and 10, while Taverham High School is closed to year 8 and 9.

Hellesdon High School is closed to year 8, while Hobart High School is closed to years 9 and 10.

Cliff Park Ormiston Academy in Gorleston has closed years 9 and 10, while Colman Infant School in Norwich is shut to year 2 due to staffing issues.

Hingham Primary School is closed for year 6 (otters) and year 4 (hedgehogs).

St Peer and St Paul Carbrooke Church of England Primary Academy and Nursery has closed nursery and year 4 because a number of staff are in the ‘at risk’ category. The school said they will remain closed “until further advice is given by the government”.

Eaton Hall Specialist Academy has closed its residence, although the school remains open.

Ministers have begun drawing up plans to cope with the impact if schools are forced to close as the coronavirus crisis develops.

Mr Johnson said there were “plans ready to go” to help parents of children who will lose their free meals if schools are ordered to shut.

The government has so far insisted school closures are not justified as part of the effort to combat Covid-19 but the biggest teachers’ union has called for that step to be taken.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, announcing the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections, said closures would only take place if the chief medical officer or chief scientific adviser say it is in the best interests of children and teachers.

The possibility of school closures is contained in the government’s action plan for the pandemic and Number 10 sources said they had “never shied away from the fact” that might have to happen.

The National Education Union called for schools to be closed “at least for some time and at least in some areas” due to the outbreak.

The NEU said the running of schools will become “all the more complicated” as they advise teachers and staff who are classed as vulnerable to self-isolate.

But Mr Williamson said current medical and scientific guidance says schools and other educational settings should remain open.

NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said there was an “apparent contradiction” between banning mass gatherings and keeping schools open, in a letter to Mr Johnson on Tuesday.

They referred to guidance that says pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions will be asked to stay at home in the coming days.

Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney said: “We intend to advise all our members in these categories or caring for people in them to stop attending schools and colleges from next Monday at the latest. Some will do so earlier.

“This will make the running of schools all the more complicated.

“Given your failure to release modelling comparing different scenarios of school closures, we are now forced to call on you to close schools, at least for some time and at least in some areas.”

Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney proposed that teachers and school leaders work on plans to open schools on a limited basis.

This would allow care for pupils whose parents work in emergency services and distribution, as well as ensuring children in food poverty have access to free school meals, they said.

“Of course, this could not be a full opening and it would mean substantial changes from the way schools are normally run - but we believe schools could be important community hubs.

“This in turn requires that Sats are abandoned and that you produce proposals on the inevitable widespread disruption to GCSE and A-level exams.”

Whitehall sources said officials had been talking to exam boards for weeks.

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