26 November, 2020
A Multi Academy Trust (Focus Trust) announced last week that 15 schools, based in the north west of England and West Yorkshire, would shut on 11 December for the Christmas holidays, due to COVID-19 implications.
This announcement was not well received by the government, who refused to allow the early closure to take place, stating that it is a national priority to keep schools open, and minimise further disruption. Therefore, the Trust has now had to push back their school closure date for the Christmas school break and will be closing on the original term date of 18 December 2020.
The Trust responded, with their view that their proposals to close the schools early for Christmas had been made "in the best interests of families and staff" after "a very disruptive and exceptional term...with absenteeism and staff shortages across the board". However, the government's response was final and the decision for the schools to remain open still stands, with the government stressing the continuation of educational provision is a priority for all within the sector irrespective of the stresses caused by Covid-19.
This was disappointing for the Trust, given that they are an independent body, separate and independent from Local Authority maintained schools, whose actions and expenditure are determined by the government. Yet it is notable that their freedom to make decisions are being restricted and controlled.
As a result of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Secretary of State can continue to ensure that their instructions are being obeyed by schools, requiring them to do/not to do certain things. This clearly shows that Academy Trusts seem to have temporarily lost their power to make decisions in relation to the schools that they run.
This is worth bearing in mind with future COVID-19 related issues and the decisions that Trusts are discussing/proposing, as the Coronavirus Act 2020 restricts and potentially removes Academies freedom to make those decisions that are a direct result of COVID-19. As such, Academies and even Local Authority Schools who have perhaps been considering closures within term time may wish to take advice as to the options available to them.