Coronavirus: Schools closed and exams cancelled - your questions answered

The government announced yesterday that schools will be closed from Friday afternoon to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, with exams and performance tables scrapped. We’ve covered the story here.

Our readers rightly have lots of questions. It’s a pretty fluid situation, and there are still lots of unknowns, but we’ve done our best to answers some of the key questions below. Where we can’t answer them, we’ve explained what we know so far.

We’re sure this will also change throughout the day – so we’ll update as we get more answers.

 

Q. Schools are closed – but for how long?

It’s important to note there hasn’t been a date put on this. The government has previously said if schools close to limit the spread of the disease it would have to be for 13 to 16 weeks – which would pretty much take us to the summer holidays, so schools would effectively be re-opening in September.

This is likely to be the current thinking, unless the situation improves drastically, with education secretary Gavin Williamson telling Sky News this morning it’s “best to assume children will be out of school for quite a considerable time”.

The closure also applies to colleges and early years settings, with private schools also asked to close.

 

Q. Will all schools have to provide this provision?

Former education secretary Damian Hinds said yesterday in parliament schools should pool resources and work together.

Schools are not going to be an educational setting. They’re not going to be teaching the national curriculum

In response, Williamson said the government will “very much be looking at working with schools to ensure that they are best able to operate together and deliver those services. The issue of flexibility is absolutely at the core of this.”

He said officials would be working with heads to make sure they get this right.

 

Q. Will schools be expected to provide work for children unable to attend school?

Williamson told the BBC that school “is going to be a safe place for those [vulnerable] children to be, it’s not going to be an educational setting. They’re not going to be teaching the national curriculum”.

But he said the government will be working with the BBC and others to “provide resources for children to access at home”, and put more resources “online to support children to continue to learn even if they are not in an education setting”.

He later said schools have been “doing a lot to provide children with work and enable them to continue to study if the school closes”.

 

Q. Exams are cancelled – so what replaces them?

Again, there’s been no official announcement yet. Williamson has said both GCSE and A-level pupils WILL still get grades and the “proper recognition they deserve”, but the department is working with Ofqual to decide how best to do that so “no child is unfairly penalised”.

However, as policy expert Jonathan Simons highlights here, the most likely and simplest way to do this is to have moderated teacher assessment.

This will prove easier at A-level, as pupils will already have predicted grades, but this is also the thinking for GCSEs. How it is moderated is going to prove more tricky, but expect an announcement in the coming days. There will also still be an appeals process.

 

Q. Are teachers classed as key workers?

A list is going to be published by the Cabinet Office, probably later today.

However, Williamson has said this will include teachers, along with social workers, police and delivery drivers. He’s also made it clear the Cabinet Office is aware that key worker status must apply across all NHS professionals – not just doctors and nurses.

 

Q. And who are vulnerable children?

Williamson said vulnerable children include pupils with education, health and care plans, as well as those who have a social worker.

These vulnerable children, plus key workers’ children, account for around 10 per cent of the school population.

What’s not yet clear is whether all schools will stay open, or whether one school in each area will simply provide provision for these pupils from several schools.

Williamson will also be asking schools to stay open during the Easter holidays for these pupils as well.

 

Q. So does this mean all special schools will stay open?

There are lots of concern around this, and we currently don’t know – but are pressing for answers.

What we do know is that Williamson says it’s “important and essential” that special schools with a residential setting remain open. When asked about other special schools, Williamson only said “we are looking to make sure there is continued provision”.

However, the wider advice is that all people with underlying health conditions who are at higher risk of getting coronavirus should be “stringent in following social distancing measures”. (you can read the advice here)

Leora Cruddas, chair of the Confederation of School Trusts, in a statement she said was cleared by Williamson’s office, also told Schools Week: “Special schools are advised to make assessment on a case by case basis of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils on a EHCP.

“For some, they will be safer in an education provision. For others, they will be safer at home. The secretary of state trusts leaders to make these decisions.”

Q. Will teachers get paid? What about staff on short-term contracts?

First of all, schools will continue to be funded as usual throughout this period. That suggests those on full-time contracts will continue to get paid.

However, when asked about what this means for contractors in schools, such as lunchtime supervisors, caretakers and cleaners, Williamson would only say that “those people who are working in schools will continue to get paid”.

Williamson was also asked – to ensure staff aren’t working for free – whether schools will be supported to meet extra staffing costs of opening through the Easter holidays, to which he replied: “Yes, they will be.”

 

Q. What happens to trainee teachers who can’t finish their courses?

This again seems to be something currently being worked out, with an announcement due over the coming days.

However, Williamson told Sky News this morning that for trainee teachers who haven’t reached the number of mandated days in school to qualify, the government would be prepared to waive this.

 

Q. Will pupils on free school meals still get fed?

The government will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children who are eligible for free school meals, and will launch a national voucher system “as soon as possible”. However this is solely for pupils on free school meals, and will not replace universal infant free school meals (where pupils in reception, year 1 and 2 get food provided).

The DfE has also confirmed that the total value of vouchers offered to each eligible child per week will “exceed the rate it pays to schools for free school meals”, currently £2.30, recognising that families “will not be buying food in bulk and may therefore incur higher costs”.

Williamson said yesterday: “The final amounts will be confirmed shortly.”