Schools are to shut from the end of this week and exams are being halted to help slow the sweeping spread of coronavirus.
Today’s Government announcement comes after teaching unions raised mounting concerns for the welfare of pupils and staff.
Headteachers were finding it increasingly difficult to keep open classrooms as so many people were self-isolating at home. Now they are preparing online learning resources in the mammoth effort to ensure education continues during the shutdown.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the plan to close schools across England following a domino effect. It had already been confirmed that schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would shut by the end of Friday.
Addressing Parliament, Mr Williamson said: “The public benefits of schools remaining open as normal are shifting. It is also clear that schools are finding it more difficult to continue as normal as illness and self-isolation impact on staffing levels and pupil attendance.
“After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.
“This will be for all children, except those of key workers and where children who are most vulnerable.”
These vulnerable pupils include children with education, health and care plans, along with those with social workers. It is not clear at this stage how this will work in practice for schools.
Key workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. Their children may be taught at nominated schools, rather than their home schools. Further details will be announced in the coming days.
Mr Williamson also confirmed SATs, which were due to go ahead in May, have now been cancelled. GCSE and A-level exams also won’t go ahead.
The Government will be working with the exams regulator Ofqual to ensure students can still get their qualifications. It is not clear at this stage how final grades will be calculated.
To address concerns over pupils not having access to free school meals, a national voucher scheme will be introduced.
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Early years settings and colleges are also expected to follow suit and close to young people.
The latest developments mean tens of thousands of North Staffordshire families will now have to either look after their children at home during the day or find alternative childcare.
Alleyne’s Academy, in Stone, today became one of the first Staffordshire schools to close on the back of the staff shortages. It was followed by the partial closure of a slew of other schools, including Biddulph High and Leek High.
And at Co-op Academy Stoke-on-Trent, in Tunstall, more than 150 children have been kept off school or sent home from lessons.
Schools across the area had already been cancelling assemblies, parents’ evenings, trips and sporting fixtures as they grapple with the risks of people catching the virus.
The National Education Union (NEU) was among those welcoming the announcement today.
Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.
“We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GCSE, AS and A-level exams are to be cancelled. This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.”