Legal Basis for Restricting Access to Schools

CHP Gillow made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Department for Education

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Roedd y cais yn llwyddiannus.

Dear Department for Education,

Introduction:

In an oral statement to Parliament on 6 January 2021(Hansard Vol 686 Column 763) the Secretary of State for Education announced that “schools will close” though, potentially confusingly, he went on to say ”schools will be open too for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers”.

The Prime Minister, Secretary of State and others have used the word 'closure' as a shorthand for the exclusion of the majority of pupils from in-person schooling. While 'closure' is not the same as a complete cessation of school operations, the impact on the majority of pupils, and on the schools, has been very significant. In this FOI, I use the term 'closure' in the same way as it has been used by the Government, i.e. a severe restriction on access.

Though the Secretary of State had powers to issue a temporary closure notice to schools, or any school, under Schedule 16 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, it appears no such power has been exercised, nor indeed was that power exercised during the first lockdown from March 2020.

This FOI seeks an explanation of the legal basis for the restriction of access to schools (akak 'closure') in England - see questions below.

Background:

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/8) was passed through Parliament on 6 January 2020 in exercise of powers conferred by the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to impose the current ‘lockdown’. SI 2021/8 amends the existing Regulations establishing the tiers system (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1374)) and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/750) by extending the application of the Tiers Regulations to March 31st and placing the whole of England in Tier 4.

SI 2020/8 lefts largely untouched the exceptions to the Tier 4 restrictions on leaving home and on gatherings. These exceptions include a provision for education detailed in Schedule 3A of the Tiers Regulations (paragraphs 1(2)(a), 2(5)(b), 3(3), and 6(3)(aa) of SI 2020/1374). Specifically, under Tier 4, the educational activities of a school are a permitted purpose for gatherings of more than two people in an indoor space and thus afford a reasonable excuse for leaving (being outside) the place where a person is living.

Questions:

What was the legal basis for the statement made by the Secretary of State about school 'closure' on 6 January 2021 (as described in the Introduction, above)?

If this legal basis differs from that applying to the 'closure' of schools in March 2020, please provide an explanation of the legal basis for the latter

Please provide the legal advice given to the Secretary of State on the extent to which independent schools might be expected to be bound by the 'closure' announced on 6 January 2021.

Yours faithfully,

CHP Gillow

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education. If you are
contacting us about coronavirus (COVID-19) you can find advice and
guidance on [1]GOV.UK. This includes [2]guidance for educational settings
in England. You can also contact our coronavirus helpline on 0800 046
8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to
4pm.

For emails and other written enquiries you will usually receive a reply
within 15 working days. You can find out how the department processes your
personal information by reading our [3]Privacy Notice.

 

 

[4]cid:image001.jpg@01D42E43.58989C30

 

References

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Dear Department for Education,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Legal Basis for Restricting Access to Schools'.

I have yet to receive the information requested or a satisfactory explanation should the information be unavailable. If I do not receive a satisfactory response to my request for an internal review then I will raise this matter with the ICO.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Yours faithfully,

CHP Gillow

MINISTERS, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Thank you for contacting the Department for Education. If you are
contacting us about coronavirus (COVID-19) you can find advice and
guidance on [1]GOV.UK. This includes [2]guidance for educational settings
in England. You can also contact our coronavirus helpline on 0800 046
8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to
4pm.

For emails and other written enquiries you will usually receive a reply
within 15 working days. You can find out how the department processes your
personal information by reading our [3]Privacy Notice.

 

 

[4]cid:image001.jpg@01D42E43.58989C30

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
2. https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
https://www.gov.uk/government/collection...
3. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear  Chp Gillow 

Thank you for your recent enquiry which was received on 7 April.

A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible. For information; the
departmental standard for correspondence received is that responses should
be sent within 20 working days as you are requesting information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your correspondence has been allocated
reference number 2021-0021987. 

 

Department for Education

Ministerial and Public Communications Division

Tel: 0370 000 2288

Web: [1]https://www.education.gov.uk
Twitter: [2]https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: [3]https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

 

 

 

 

References

Visible links
1. https://www.education.gov.uk/
2. https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
3. https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

Dear Mr Gillow,
 
I would like to offer my apologies for the delay in responding to your FOI
request 2021-0012527. The Department takes very seriously its obligations
under the Act, including the requirement to respond within the statutory
deadline of 20 working days. I am afraid that we have not been able to
maintain this standard in this instance and while there may be considered
to be mitigating circumstances, this delay is not acceptable and I am very
sorry for the inconvenience which it may cause you.
 
We are considering your request and I will write to you again with a final
response shortly.
 
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number (2021-0012527) in any future
communications.
 
Yours sincerely
Aanika Mumtaz
Department for Education
 

ACCOUNT, Unmonitored, Department for Education

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Gillow,

 

Please find attached our response to your FOI request of 14 February.

 

Yours sincerely,

Aanika Mumtaz

Department for Education