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The Home Secretary said that the police “must do more” in response to warnings from education leaders over the scale of abuse and intimidation faced by pupils and teaching staff.
However, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has urged the Government to go further by giving local authorities the ability to “rapidly” establish “exclusion zones” outside schools.
It comes as The Telegraph can reveal that at least one school in London was told to close early by the police and their local authority, due to risk posed to pupils and staff by a large-scale protest by anti-vaxxers.
The headteacher, who is a prominent education leader, said the school had not taken the decision “lightly”, but felt obligated to do so to ensure “the safety and security of its students”.
This newspaper has chosen to keep the school and the headteacher anonymous, due to fears that it could compromise the safety of staff and pupils.
Anti-vaxxers violently clash with children
Meanwhile, in more than a dozen first-hand accounts from heads across the country, it has emerged that anti-vaxxers have violently clashed with pupils, covertly filmed teachers, trespassed on school premises to serve bogus legal notices and handed out leaflets to pupils containing disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.
Areas of the country where headteachers have complained of serious disruption in recent days include London, Bristol, Hertfordshire, Somerset and Winchester.
In one clash outside of a school, three pupils were reportedly injured during a confrontation with demonstrators when their signs were stolen, with one pupil allegedly being pushed in front of a car.
Despite urging the police to attend the school two hours beforehand, the headteacher said they had been told that the protesters had a right to demonstrate - adding that they felt “extremely vulnerable, frustrated and helpless”.
Responding to the reports, Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, said: “The unacceptable and disgraceful actions of a small minority who are harassing pupils, parents, carers and teachers outside schools must be brought to an end.”
Echoing his concerns, Ms Patel said: “Freedom to protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, but it is completely unacceptable for children, teachers, or parents to be intimidated and harassed outside their school by protesters peddling misinformation and dangerous lies about the life-saving vaccine programme.
“Some of these protesters' actions have gone way beyond what any of us would deem as acceptable and the police must do more to stop people getting hurt and stop lives being disrupted.
“I will always give the police the powers and resources they need to keep the British people safe, which is why I am bringing forward measures in the Police and Crime Bill to crack down on disruptive protests that impact the law-abiding majority.”
Plea to ‘rapidly create exclusion zones’
However Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, has urged Ms Patel to go further and update the law around public spaces protection orders to ensure local authorities can “rapidly create exclusion zones for anti-vaxx protests outside of schools”.
Such orders have been used by councils to tackle anti-social behaviour and prevent harassment outside of abortion clinics, but are often time-consuming.
“It is sickening that anti-vaxx protesters are spreading dangerous misinformation to children in protests outside of schools,” said Sir Keir.
“The uptake of vaccines among children is far too low and the Government’s roll-out is painfully slow. Everything must be done to get those eligible jabbed as quickly as possible in this public health emergency.”
Vaccine programme for teenagers behind schedule
There are now mounting fears that anti-vaccination demonstrations are causing significant disruption to schools at a time when they are attempting to roll out jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds and catch up on months of lost learning.
Despite the success of the first vaccination programme, the drive to inoculate teenagers is significantly behind schedule, with just 15 per cent jabbed. Scotland’s vaccination level for the same age groups is three times higher.
With Covid-19 prevalence highest among the young, ministers fear that the slow rollout is helping to fuel the national uptick in infections.
While Sajid Javid has now moved to open up national vaccination centres for teenagers, headteachers are warning that anti-vaxx protests across the country risk further hindering the rollout efforts.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges are taking the brunt of the effects of the visus in pupil and staff absence and feel abandoned by the Government.
“The antics of some anti-vaccination groups are completely inappropriate, undermining the confidence of vulnerable young people and distracting teachers and leaders from their core business.
“The Government needs to set out why school gates are never appropriate spaces for protests and ensure that the police are on standby if necessary to give community reassurance.”
Death threats and bogus legal notices
In one incident, a headteacher had to request police involvement after receiving a death threat from a parent “threatening to hang me if I allowed vaccination to take place on the site”.
Several school leaders revealed their pupils were being handed leaflets containing disinformation about the vaccines, including claims that they “screw up your body”.
Others reported groups of demonstrators entering schools to demand to see headteachers and staff to serve them with bogus legal notices, often while filming covertly.