Christmas plays cancelled in COVID scare

Christmas festivities have been cancelled at some schools in Southend after stringent COVID guidelines were issued by the borough’s public health boss.

Krishna Ramkhelawon, Southend’s public health director, contacted schools recommending a series of COVID safety measures, ranging from mask wearing, social distancing and testing, to banning any attendance from the public at events.

Some schools opted to cancel events, including performances and nativities, which pupils have spent weeks rehearsing.

Shoebury High School has cancelled the opening night of its end of year show, set to be held on Monday.

Edwards Hall Primary School in Eastwood is reported to have held its nativity outside on Monday and Greenways Primary School’s nativity performances were recorded for parents.

A parent whose child attends Bournes Green Junior, who asked not to be named, said: “We had to cancel the Parent Association Christmas fair on Friday.

“We found out about it on Wednesday when it was too late to move it outside. We normally raise about £3,000.

“Next week nativities will be held outside. The Christingle service at St Augustine’s Church has also been cancelled.

“It seems ridiculous that people can still go to the Cliffs Pavilion.”

Essex County Council chose not to impose the guidelines, instead leaving it up to schools to decide what measures they needed to take.

However, in an email to councillors on November 30, Mr Ramkhelawon said this “is unlikely to provide a consistent approach to risk reduction”.

A spokesman for Bournes Green a part of SECAT group of schools, added: “In line with the guidance recently issued by the Southend public health team, we have changed some of the Christmas activities across our schools.

“We know this will be disappointing to children and parents and regret this greatly. We have, however, made every effort not to cancel nativities as the children, parents and staff value these immensely and have put a lot of effort into them.”

Lloyd Mason-Edwards, headteacher at Greenways Primary School, said: “As a result of the increased risk posed by the new variant and in the interest of the safety of our community, we have updated our risk assessments in line with Public Health England’s advice.

“We have taken the decision to make alternative arrangements for our school’s Christmas activities, such as the filming of the nativity play.”

Mr Ramkhelawon insisted he only issued advice, with the final decision coming down to individual schools.

He said: “As director of public health, I have worked with colleagues across the East of England to help create a consistent risk framework to support schools to help plan their Christmas festivities and events safely.

“This followed several requests from local schools and early years settings for a consistent approach. Each area has made their own decision as to whether they pass this onto schools or not.

“This has been issued as advice, and I was very clear that it was not being mandated and that ultimately decisions rested with school leaders based on their own risk assessments.”

Edwards Hall Primary and Shoebury High schools were contacted for comment.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter