HEADTEACHERS in Malvern have criticised the government's last minute decision to close schools and cancel exams this summer.

Mike Fieldhouse, headteacher at The Chase, blasted the “bombshell comment” that summer exams would be cancelled, “without any clarity and guidance about what would replace those examinations”.

While Lindsey Cooke, the headteacher of Hanley Castle High School, said she was "disappointed" that the exams had been cancelled.

When he announced the national lockdown on Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all schools and colleges now had to move to online learning, with them remaining closed for all pupils apart from the children of key workers or those who are vulnerable until the February half-term.

This was despite some schools re-opening to pupils for the new term earlier that day, and Mr Johnson encouraging parents to send their children back to school the prior weekend.

Mr Fieldhouse said: “We have already seen a growing number of students in examination years exhibiting signs of anxiety and stress and this announcement by the Government undoubtedly will have added to this.”

Concerning remote learning, he said: “Our students have shown huge amounts of resilience in adapting to these new ways of teaching and learning and our parents have been very supportive.”

But he added: “We would have hoped that the Government would have learned lessons from their past misjudged announcements in terms of the need to ensure clarity, certainty and time to implement its directives: clearly, they have not. Again, school leaders were presented with an almost impossible task of implementing the Prime Minister’s directives at very short notice.”

Mr Fieldhouse also raised concerns about student access to the necessary technology.

He said: “We recognise the very real difficulty that some households face in only having access to one laptop or other electronic device in order to continue with their education in circumstances where there may be more than one child needing access to a device.

"We also recognise issues with connectivity and the additional expense that may be incurred by households in relation to data costs and we would look for additional support from Government for those families.”

Lindsey Cooke, the headteacher of Hanley Castle High School, said staff had been preparing to test pupils for Covid in anticipation of their return, before the lockdown announcement came on Monday night.

“We are open to keyworker children, they will be tested, but we were looking forward to welcoming back our year 11s,” she said.

“They did an excellent job with their mocks, and we were looking forward to preparing them for their summer exams, having been told they wouldn’t be cancelled.

“There is disappointment we haven’t been allowed to plan for this. But our students will have five lessons a day. Whatever is thrown at us we will cope with but it is frustrating we have so little notice.”

The lockdown has met with a mixed response from Malvern businesses.

AJ Bains, general manager of the Mount Pleasant Hotel, said: “We envisaged this was going to happen, but not as drastically as it happened. A lot of working hours, purchasing costs, advertising and marketing have been wasted recently. This has caused much stress to this business and others in my industry.

“We had mentally prepared ourselves for the latest lockdown. I had told my team we would be closing our doors on January 1 until March 2021. I am still optimistic about the long-term future for Mount Pleasant Hotel. The year 2021, will, however, be all about rebuilding.”

Sue Rule, owner of Dynastic Art in Church Street, said: “I really believe we should not be pushed around by our fears and continue to follow the government’s guidance. Our attitude to the pandemic is our choice and we just need to stay strong and stand together.”

But Christine Burns Wood, owner of The Beauty Spot, said the lockdown was “real torture for most businesses”.

However, she added: “Now there is a vaccine, I am very optimistic for the middle of 2021 onwards.”

Matt Kingston, owner and managing director of the Clarence Park Health Suite, added: “Another national lockdown will inevitably be damaging to our core business and we hope that it won’t be too long before we see people back in the gym.”