The Government is not asking schools to cancel nativity plays in the coming weeks despite the emergence of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, a minister has said.
Health minister Edward Argar said festive plays in school are “important to young people who’ve had a rough time” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
His comments came as a poll suggested that more than one in four (27%) primary school teachers have said their school is only planning to run nativity shows online this year.
A poll by Teacher Tapp, of 1,711 primary school teachers in England, shared with the PA news agency, found that 10% said their primary school is not planning to host any nativity play this year.
Asked what advice he would give to schools putting on Christmas plays in the coming weeks, Mr Argar told BBC Breakfast: “We haven’t told schools to cancel events like that.
“Headteachers, as I said just now, will make their own judgments. They know their schools, they know their premises, they know their parents and pupils.
“But we’re not telling people to cancel events like that.
“What we are saying is people should, as ever, be sensible.”
He added: “I remember… the school nativity play – I was pretty hopeless in it.
“But it was a big part of the school year and therefore I think these events are important to young people who’ve had a rough time over the past year-and-a-half, two years.”
The Teacher Tapp poll, which was carried out on Saturday afternoon, found that 55% of teachers are hoping to allow visitors to watch their nativity in person this year, and 5% said they do not normally put on a nativity play.
Asked on ITV’s This Morning programme about school Christmas concerts, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “My very strong advice is if you (are) organising nativities, carry on.”
The plea came as masks are being recommended in communal areas of secondary schools following cases of the Omicron variant being detected in the UK.
Essex County Council said “precautionary action” – including testing of pupils and remote learning for one class – has been taken at Larchwood Primary School in Brentwood after a link was found with the new strain.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “School leaders have already been making difficult decisions about nativities, based on the guidance they have received from local health teams.
“Where this means cancelling nativities, or parents being unable to attend, many schools will explore other options such as online-only performances.”
On nativity plays, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “Schools will be making decisions based on various factors including local case rates, any outbreaks in the school itself, quality of ventilation and space available.
“Some may choose to run hybrid events or to restrict numbers, and we would hope parents would support whatever the school decides is best for children and staff.”
Arabella Skinner, director of parent campaign group UsForThem, said it would be “shameful” to cancel children’s social events during the festive season.
She said: “Parents are devastated to see so many schools ramp up restrictions for a second year in a row.
“Evidence now speaks to the harm we have wreaked on children’s education, welfare and overall health over the last 18 months; to cause them further damage through increased measures and cancellation of events should be unthinkable.”