Greenwich Council has 'called for answers' after the Government has 'refused' to reveal why they ordered primary schools in the borough to reopen despite surging Covid-19 rates.

The council say the Department for Education has now refused to answer a Freedom of Information (FOI) request requesting the criteria used to the make the initial verdict, and has again criticised the 'astounding' decision to order (via legal action) the borough's schools to remain open at the end of term.

In late December, the Government announced plans to delay primary school reopenings in some heavily-hit areas, but both Greenwich and Lewisham were not included on the list.

This meant the boroughs being told to reopen schools for Spring, despite both boroughs, as well as others such as Lambeth, appearing to have a far higher rate of Covid-19 infection than other boroughs ordered to delay their reopenings.

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The council has now backed public calls for Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, to 'give an explanation' as to why he made the decision, as well to why legal action was taken against them earlier in the month.

The FOI 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”.

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said it was "astounding" that they were told their children should not stay at home as virus rates were "rocketing."

“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. "

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

This is higher than the 706 used by the Government, but in comparison, the London borough with the lowest rate was Kensington and Chelsea with a rate of 496 per 100,000, but they were directed to close.

Cllr Thorpe added: “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.

“Our schools, our parents and our vital teachers deserve the right to know that decision makers have their best interests at heart.

“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.

This happened back in mid-December when, facing a rapidly increasing Covid-19 infection rate, council leader Danny Thorpe sent a letter advising all schools not to reopen for the final week of term and switch to remote learning.

The move proved controversial, receiving backing from large political groups and unions and was even copied b yother London councils, and also receiving heavy criticism from some parents, teachers and from Government.

But classrooms stayed open after Gavin Williamson issued a temporary continuity direction to the London borough as well as demanding that it withdraw letters to head teachers and parents which advised the closures.