Coronavirus: #covid19walkout trending as leaders attend DfE crunch talks

Parents across England have pledged to remove their children from schools if they are not closed soon, as leadership unions and academy representatives prepare to meet ministers for coronavirus crunch talks.

The hashtag #covid19walkout is trending on twitter, with many parents saying they will take matters into their own hands following the government’s decision last week not to close schools en-masse.

It follows assurances from Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, that schools will not be penalised for higher-than-usual absence rates as a result of the spread of coronavirus.

The debate comes amid growing concerns that the government’s response to coronavirus does not go far enough. Boris Johnson has so far not followed the example of many other European countries in closing schools and public spaces like pubs and restaurants.

Representatives of the Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Headteachers and Confederation of Schools Trusts will meet Williamson and others at the Department for Education today to discuss next steps for schools.

One issue due to be discussed is how children of key workers – those working for the emergency services and in other “essential” roles – will be looked-after if schools do close.

It follows speculation that some schools could remain open to effectively provide childcare for pupils whose parents cannot work from home or take time off.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, who will attend the meeting today, told journalists on Friday that this was a matter of concern.

“I think inevitably one of the things we’re going to be talking about is, is it really realistic, in the worst-case scenario, that every single school in the country is going to close? What will the implications be for certain youngsters.”

The government will also need to make a call on whether to postpone exams and halt Ofsted inspections, to ensure schools and pupils are not penalised for issues outside of their control.

Hamid Patel, who runs Star Academies, England’s highest-performing academy trust, wrote in a Guardian yesterday that cancelling this year’s exams and making pupils repeat a year is now the “only sensible and humane option”.

“It could save tens of thousands of lives because it will ensure good decision-making, and good decision-making by individuals is central to how we manage this crisis,” he said.

Forum Strategy, a membership and support organisation for academy trusts, has also written to the Department for Education calling on ministers to postpone May’s SATs exams for primary pupils and set out its contingency plans for GCSEs and A-levels. The group also wants the abolition of league tables for 2020.

Barton also called for clarity from Ofqual, the exams regulator, after reports exams could be moved forward, rather than delayed.

Williamson told the ASCL conference on Friday that the government was doing “everything to make sure” this summer’s exams are fair for pupils and their efforts are “fairly rewarded” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The education secretary said concerns about exams were “only to be expected, especially when so much hard work has gone into them”.

Ahead of the meeting, Barton said school and college leaders were “showing calm and assured leadership in these difficult times and we can reassure the public that everything that can be done to support young people will be done”.