Schools across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to close on Friday because of the coronavirus epidemic.
What will the impact be?
How long are schools likely to be closed?
Head teachers in England, at least, think schools will not open again properly before September.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she cannot guarantee that schools in Scotland will re-open before September
The peak of the virus outbreak is likely May and June, after which most schools start to wind down.
Schools in England, Wales and Scotland will close on Friday afternoon. Schools in Northern Ireland will be closed from Monday.
But ultimately it will depend to a large extent on the effectiveness of measures to reduce the spread of the outbreak.
Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said school closures were necessary to reduce social contact throughout society and hence the spread of the virus.
So will every school be completely closed?
No. Some schools will be kept open with a skeleton staff to provide support for the children of key workers. A list of who this covers is to be r,eleased later today, but it is expected to include NHS staff, police and food delivery drivers.
Schools will also be asked to help those most in need – for example, children who receive free school meals and those with special educational needs or education health care plans.
But it is not yet clear which schools will be the ones to provide these services.
Mr Williamson said in England the aim would be to provide support in school for an estimated 10% of pupils.
Teaching unions are supportive of the plans, but say they want to see more details of the plans urgently.
The government says it’s also asking nurseries and private schools to close, and will provide financial support if needed.
What will happen about exams?
In England and in Wales, all exams in May and June have been cancelled, including GCSEs and A-levels as well as England’s primary school national curriculum tests, known as Sats.
Mr Williamson told the Commons on Wednesday: “I can confirm we will not go ahead with assessments or exams and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year.
“We will work with the sector and [the exams watchdog] Ofqual to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.”
More details will be released on England’s plans on Friday.
Scotland and Northern Ireland will announce a decision on exams in the days to come.
How will children be assessed instead?
Exams watchdogs have been working together for some time to look at alternative arrangements.
These may include:
- using predicted grades
- teacher assessments
- looking at coursework
- considering other evidence of candidate performance
It is likely the exam boards and individual exams regulators across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will agree a uniform system to ensure comparability.
With regard to offers of university places, Universities UK – the vice-chancellors’ organisation – suggested universities may honour the offers already made on the basis of predicted grades.
What does this mean for parents?
For many working parents, the closures will mean huge childcare issues (this was one of the reasons why the government delayed closures as long as possible).
Some may need to take time off work, raising concerns that some families will struggle financially.
Head teachers have told the BBC that they have been making plans to continue teaching and supporting pupils during the closure, using social media and technologies such as Google Classroom and Maths Watch.
Why did government hold out against closures?
In many other countries across Europe, schools were closed earlier on in the outbreak.
The UK’s reluctance to follow suit was based on information that children are not as vulnerable to coronavirus as adults.
There were also fears about elderly relatives – the group most at risk from the virus – from being called upon to provide childcare.
However, head teachers have been struggling with the growing number of staff who have taken time off because they are ill, have underlying health conditions or are self-isolating.
Many individual schools had already been closing their doors, or sending certain year groups home.
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