Schools may close early for Christmas - these are the current plans across the four nations

Monday, 30th November 2020, 4:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 11:08 am

With rules on socialisation set to be relaxed over Christmas, there is some discussion of schools being closed early.

Parents, teachers and unions are concerned that planned term time dates will result in children being in self-isolation over Christmas, or lead to a spike in infections come January, after children have socialised with family.

Local councils in Wales are now said to be considering early closures of schools - but what about the rest of the four nations? This is the latest news on school closures from across the UK.

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England

In spite of concerns around current term times, and a petition calling for early closures, there are currently no plans in England to end term time early for school children.

The current government guidance on schools reads, “You should continue to attend your school or college until the last day of normal term time. Schools and colleges should not change their Christmas holidays or close early this term.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also dismissed the chance of schools closing early in a press conference last week, saying, “We want to keep pupils and young people in school as much as we possibly can.”

One academy trust - Focus Trust - was forced to U-turn on its decision last week to close its primary schools a week early for Christmas.

Scotland

Scotland is reportedly looking at standardising term dates, and extending the festive period.

A memo leaked to the Daily Record suggested that the break could be between 18 December and 11 January.

Many schools were set to break up on 18 December, regardless, but 11 January is much later than children would usually return.

The idea of a longer break would be to stem the spread of infections after families get together over the Christmas period. Ministers are currently in discussions around the best path forward for Scottish schools.

Wales

In spite of Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford saying he wanted schools to stay open, local Welsh councils are now in talks around the closing of schools early to avoid children spending Christmas in self-isolation.

The news comes after warnings from the UCAC teaching union last week, which said that children could be forced into isolation “bubbles” that would see them in self-isolation over Christmas day.

In a letter addressed to Education Minister Kirsty Williams, the union said there were "serious concerns" among members "that pupils and students will continue to attend an educational setting a week before Christmas Day.”

Northern Ireland

The current closing date for schools in Northern Ireland remains 18 December. However, a number of schools are reported to have informed parents and carers that they will be closing early, on 11 December.

In recent weeks, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said attempts to reduce the R number (infection rate) would be challenging if schools and the hospitality sector remained open at the same time.

Currently, the hospitality sector is set to reopen on 11 December, when the extension to the circuit breaker lockdown is set to end.