Schools should stage nativity plays and end-of-term shows this year where possible because they are “important” traditions, an education minister has said.
Schools minister Robin Walker has said he would like to see “as many going forward as possible” this term.
His comments come amid reports that a number of schools have decided not to allow parents to attend nativity plays or festive celebrations in person amid concerns about Covid-19 cases.
The schools minister told the PA news agency: “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.”
When asked whether it was wrong for schools to axe in-person nativity plays and 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.”
Schools leaders’ union NAHT said some of its members have had to move nativities and festive celebrations online or video only, and parents and families have not been allowed to attend in-person.
Mr Walker said: “I recognise – and I had to do that last year – in these circumstances sometimes they will feel it’s safer for the children to go ahead with a performance and the parents to watch it remotely.
“That has been part of the reality that we’ve all been through.”
Last year, many schools were forced to cancel their nativity plays amid the pandemic, while others hosted the traditional performances online instead.
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.
“Where this means parents are unable to attend, we already know that many schools are already exploring other options so that families get some form of a ‘nativity experience’.
“Everyone will be hoping that this is the last year where restrictions will be necessary.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Christmas activities, such as nativity plays and end-of-term shows, are an important part of school life and an enormous amount of time and effort goes into putting them together.
“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.
“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.”