On Monday, the PM announced a series of new key measures to target the number of coronavirus cases after scientific modelling showed the UK was on course for a "catastrophic epidemic". Among them include school closure
All schools, colleges and nurseries in England are to join those in the rest of the UK in closing on Friday “until further notice” to try to curb the spread of coronavirus. Wales was first to announce the measure, followed closely by Scotland and Northern Ireland, before the Prime Minister confirmed the move would be nationwide.
The decision to close schools in England follows announcements hours earlier that schools in Scotland and Wales will close from the end of this week until mid-April at the earliest and possibly until September. Shortly before the announcement in England, Northern Ireland also declared that schools would be closed to pupils with immediate effect
After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon they will remain closed until further notice. This will be for all children except to those of key workers and children who are most vulnerable.
The children of key workers such as emergency workers, NHS staff and delivery workers would be the exception, and would still be looked after. The same would happen for pupils with education, health and care plans in place. Meals and vouchers would be provided for children eligible for them
Alternative schooling options
When schools close on Friday, many parents will have little choice but to take time off work to look after their children at home. The measures apply to state and private schools alike, nurseries and sixth-form colleges. The advice is to not ask grandparents to help with childcare, because of their vulnerability to the virus. Schools have been drawing up homework packs and online resources to help parents home educate.
Without being able to provide immediate details, the government said it plans to provide a skeletal school service for parents who are key workers on the frontline of the national effort to stem the pandemic – including doctors, nurses, and food delivery workers – so they can stay at work.
Vulnerable children, those who have a social worker, and pupils entitled to special needs support will also be able to stay in school. Where possible special schools and residential schools will continue to look after children and young people.
UK universities are shifting to online learning and exams to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but many students are anxious that this isn’t happening fast enough.
Many universities, including the London School of Economics, King’s College London, the University of Durham and Manchester Metropolitan University, announced plans to replace face-to-face teaching with video lectures and online seminars, end term early, or cancel exams.
Students had signed petitions urging their universities to make the shift to online teaching and learning as fast as possible. Moving to online learning and assessment is likely to be a challenging transition for UK universities, forcing them to rapidly change how their courses operate and putting pressure on digital systems.
GCSE and A-level exams will also not now take place in May and June, but pupils will still get qualifications, though UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not give any details on how this would happen. The UK will also not be publishing performance tables for this academic year and work with the sector to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.
In England, almost all qualifications are now assessed by end of course exams so there is no continuous assessment to rely on. However, teachers ordinarily provide predicted A-level grades for students applying to university, and GCSE students have already sat mock exams which will have given their teachers some idea of their pupils’ likely results. The education secretary was at pains to reassure pupils and their families that every child would get “the proper recognition” they deserve.
Special meal provisions for eligible children
Emergency plans are being drawn up to try to ensure that vulnerable children who are entitled to free school meals do not go hungry when schools close. The government is planning a voucher scheme to make up for free school meals.
Where possible schools will be encouraged to keep their kitchens open to cook hot meals and act as a food distribution hub for children in need, while elsewhere headteachers are making supermarket vouchers available to try to ease the burden on the most vulnerable families.
More than a million children in England who come from the most disadvantaged families currently benefit from a free school lunch. For many, it may be the only hot meal of the day they enjoy and experts say it is vital that children continue to benefit, despite the closures which could last for a long time.
After school activities
The government is keen to encourage as much educational activity at home as is feasible, but parents are going to have to be creative – and very patient. As well as homework materials provided by individual schools, the government is working with the BBC to develop resources to keep children occupied and stimulated and many e-learning platforms are offering their resources free of charge.
With cinemas, museums, theatres and libraries closed, all normal entertainment is ruled out. Like everyone else, children will be subject to the same social-distancing rules which mean travel and outings are curtailed and most activities will have to be home-based. One of the challenges will be to keep children physically active with group sporting activities and space confined.