Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ‘people should be able to get together’ at Christmas and said schools should allow festive celebrations
A top Tory has said school nativity plays should “play on” this Christmas despite mounting Covid fears.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted people should be able to get together this Christmas – and said festive celebrations in schools should be allowed.
It comes amid reports some schools have banned parents from attending nativity plays or festive celebrations in person due to concerns about the virus.
The emergence of a worrying new variant in South Africa Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel has sparked alarm among experts, with flights suspended from six southern African countries.
No cases have been detected in the UK so far but UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) boss Dr Susan Hopkins said it was possible the strain was already here.
Asked if schools should be allowed to stage nativity plays, Mr Shapps told LBC: “Let nativity plays play on is my view.
“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.
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“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.”
Schools Minister Robin Walker said end of term shows and nativity plays were an “important tradition” as he urged teachers to allow them to go ahead in person.
He told PA: “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.”
Asked if it was wrong for schools to axe in-person festive events, Mr Walker said: “I think it’s good where those important traditions can be maintained that they are.”
But he added: “Of course 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 and 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.”
James Bowen, director of policy for NAHT, said: “School nativities are a special occasion for pupils, parents and staff. There is nothing schools want more than to have a hall full of families enjoying the children putting on their festive show.
“However, schools have so many things to balance when deciding what to do this year. They are dealing with varying advice from their local authorities, central government advice, and a wide range of parent opinions – they really are caught between a rock and a hard place.
“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, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said Christmas activities were an important part of school life but Covid related issues remain.
“Leaders will, however, be realistic about the significant challenges they continue to face in tackling the disruption to normal school life brought by the coronavirus and will try to be flexible in managing the risks presented by bringing family members into the school environment to attend performances,” he said.
“They will also be mindful of the challenges posed by having more staff absent than normal.
“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.
“Whilst this is no replacement for watching young people performing in person, it does mean that the show can go on for many schools.”