The Prime Minister and the Education secretary have announced that all schools in England will be closed from Friday, but the children of ‘key workers’ including doctors and nurses will still be expected to attend.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that “after schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.”
Sixth form colleges, early years providers, further education providers, private schools, and boarding schools are expected to do the same.
This will be for “all children” except for those who are “most vulnerable” and the children of “key workers” such as NHS staff, police, and delivery drivers who need to be able to go to work. Vulnerable children are those who have a social worker and have educational and health and care plans.
“I said before that if the science and advice changed, such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interest of children and teachers, that we would act. We are now at that stage,” Mr Williamson said.
“The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated and it is crucial that we consider the right measures to arrest that increase and to relieve the pressure on the health system,” he added.
The minister said that he is working with Her Majesty’s Treasury on the financial support required. Provisions will also be available for children eligible for free school meals.
Immediately after Mr Williamson addressed the House of Commons, the Prime Minister spoke to the nation in his daily coronavirus briefing.
Explaining some of the specifics of the school shutdown, Mr Johnson said that while the government’s previous stance that schools should stay open may have seen “counter-intuitive”, it was right at the time but now the spread of coronavirus in the UK was entering a new phase of infection, the advice form scientific experts had changed.
…we will continue as we have from the beginning to do the right thing at the right time, and to follow the best scientific advice. We come today to the key issue of schools where have been consistently advised that there is an important tradeoff. And so far the judgement of our advisors has been that closing schools is actually of limited value in slowing the spread of the epidemic, and that is partly because, counter-intuitively, schools are very safe environments, and in this disease children and young people are much less vulnerable.
And hitherto, the advice has been that we should keep schools open if possible in order to reduce pressure on the NHS and on all other public services… I have always been clear this is a balanced judgement and one we have kept under constant review.
The prime minister echoed Williamson’s earlier comments and said state schools would continue to function until Friday afternoon, at which point they would close to almost all pupils “until further notice”. He said the government would be urging private schools and nurseries to do the same, adding that financial support would be provided to these independent organisations.
Of crucial importance, however, was allowing key workers to stay at their jobs, so their children would still be expected to attend school during the shutdown. Those key workers needed to keep the government’s coronavirus response working include National Health Service (NHS, the UK’s state healthcare provider) staff, food delivery drivers, police officers, and care workers, the Prime Minister said.
School exams due to take place in the spring will also be cancelled, the PM said, while remarking that pupils will still get the qualifications they “deserve and need”. While no clarification was givne in this point, that could mean exams postponed until the pandemic recedes, or school GCSE certificates given based on previous performance.
Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales had already announced schools closures earlier today.
Other European countries, including the UK’s closest EU neighbour the Republic of Ireland, have also closed schools to prevent the spread of the Chinese virus.