Sussex school closures: Head teacher blasts ‘very frustrating’ U-turn

The head teacher of a Sussex secondary school has poured scorn on the timing of the Government’s decision to close schools, saying it could have been made weeks ago.

Monday, 4th January 2021, 8:07 pm
Updated Monday, 4th January 2021, 8:18 pm

In an address to the nation this evening (January 4), Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced all schools across the country must close from tomorrow.

The announcement comes just over 24 hours after Boris Johnson told parents to send their children to school today, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show ‘there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe’.

Head teacher of Worthing High School, Pan Panayiotou, said schools could have been warned before Christmas and given more time to prepare.

DM1711926a.jpg. Pan Panayiotou, headteacher at Worthing High School. Photo by Derek Martin

“When we get little notification it’s always difficult and frustrating because our fundamental goal is to make sure that we can stay open and deliver education for all our students,” he said.

“We are continually having to adjust our plans and as school leaders we fully appreciate we are dealing with a virus that is changing and mutating, but I think what is very frustrating is that we could be making these decisions earlier to avoid some of the extra pressure being put on our staff, parents and students.

“He could’ve called this before Christmas, but it’s all just react, react, react and it’s frustrating from a headteacher’s perspective because we are always about planning and we have no way to plan effectively.”

Mr Johnson said schools acted as ‘vectors’ to spreading infections, rather than being dangerous to children.

He hoped, if everything goes to plan, schools could open from after the February half term.

Just before the new year, the Government had announced plans to begin mass testing at secondary schools in a bid to keep them open.

Most secondary schools in Sussex were told to reopen on January 11, apart from Hastings and Rother which delayed openings until January 18.

That gave education leaders less than two weeks to prepare for a monumental logistical challenge in another example, according to Mr Panayiotou, of the Government not giving enough warning.

He said he had been on calls with the Department for Education, West Sussex County Council and other head teachers and they has all been struggling to implement the scale of testing required.

“We could have been told this side of Christmas as we could implement things properly, but we didn’t have the time to do that.”

Many primary schools set to open across the county today opted to remain closed as high numbers of pupils and staff tested positive for coronavirus.

Brighton and Hove City Council defied the Government’s guidance altogether and advised its primary schools to remain closed.

Schools have largely remained open since the end of the first lockdown in the summer, but their closure heralds the main change from Sussex’s current tier 4 restrictions.