Coronavirus UK: schools, colleges and nurseries to close | World news

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, the government has announced, with the only exception being made for children of key workers and for vulnerable children.

The announcement came simultaneously from Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, who was speaking in the Commons, and at a Downing Street press conference.

GCSE and A-level exams will also not now take place in May and June, but pupils will still get qualifications, Boris Johnson said, without giving details on how this would happen.

Following the move, which had been widely anticipated amid the quickening spread of the virus, Labour and teaching unions said they had questions about measures to care for vulnerable children. Groups representing the nursery sector said urgent help was needed to keep businesses afloat.

Williamson told the Commons: “The spike of the virus is happening at a faster pace than anticipated, and it is right to consider the right measures to arrest this increase and to relieve this pressure on the health system.

“I want to provide parents, students and staff with the certainty they need … 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.”

Williamson said the same advice would be given to colleges, early-years providers and private schools.

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, Williamson said.

Williamson said pupils in England would not have to sit GCSE, A-levels or Sats exams this year, saying: “I can confirm that 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 to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.”

Asked how pupils would receive qualifications at the daily No 10 press conference, Johnson gave no details, saying only: “We will make sure that their progress is not impeded as a result of this decision we have to make now.”

Speaking alongside Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the closure was “not because schools are dangerous places for children”, but to “put some brakes on the system of transmission” of coronavirus, and make sure NHS critical care did not reach “critical” capacity.

It was still not known how or if children spread the virus, he added.

Speaking after Williamson in the Commons, the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, called for assurances on a series of issues, including continued school meals for children living in poverty.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, which represents headteachers, said the announcement left “more questions than answers”, and that schools would be seeking details.

Purnima Tanuku, head of the National Day Nurseries Association, called it “absolutely devastating news”, saying the sector needed help to cope with continued overheads.

At the Downing Street press conference, Johnson declined the rule out the idea that London could be facing a lockdown similar to those in other European cities, given the advanced spread of the virus and the fact many people are still packing into pubs and cafes.

He said: “Actually I think a lot of people are taking a real heroic effort to comply with the advice we’ve given but as I’ve said tonight, and in the past few days, we keep everything under continuous review and we will not hesitate in bringing forward further and faster measures where we think that is necessary.”

The press conference also saw Johnson and Vallance express hope that a simple test to see if people had caught coronavirus could be ready soon, with the PM calling this a “game-changer” in tracking the spread of the disease.

The decision comes as the system in England approached chaos, with hundreds of headteachers having to partially or fully close their schools because of staff shortages. In many places, especially London, pupils were also staying away, with teachers reporting that as many as half of each class in some year groups were not attending.

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, the Stormont executive also said that schools in Northern Ireland would be closed to pupils “with immediate effect”.

The Welsh minister for education, Kirsty Williams, said schools across Wales would close at the end of Friday, in effect breaking early for the Easter holidays, but she warned the closures could continue for a considerable time.

Source link