1. ITV Report

What schools closures mean for parents and their children

From the end of the week, school across the UK are to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Boris Johnson confirmed schools will be shut as of Friday, although exceptions will be made for vulnerable children and those of key workers.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs in the House of Commons that schools in England would be closed until further notice for all pupils, except the children of key workers and the most vulnerable.

It came after Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland announced similar measures on Wednesday.

The decision was welcomed by teachers' unions who have called for schools to be closed amid staff shortages - with some reported having a third of staff off sick, or self-isolating because of Covid-19.

But how will this affect parents and their children?

Here’s what we know so far:

When will schools close and for how long?

What do the closures mean for children? Credit: PA

Schools across the UK will be closed from the end of the week.

However, children of key workers, such as NHS staff and delivery drivers, will still be able to go into school so that their parents can continue to work.

No end date for the closures have yet been given, schools have been shut "indefinitely".

What will happen with exams?

Exams are off. Credit: PA

It was announced on Wednesday that the exams in England and Wales will be cancelled this year, although the prime minister has said there are plans for students to receive qualifications.

Teenagers affected by the decision to cancel this summer's GCSE and A-level exams could be awarded grades based on teacher assessment and the results of their mocks, it has been suggested.

School leaders said it is thought these proposed grades could be submitted to exam boards to check to ensure "consistency and fairness".

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the Government will work with schools, colleges and exams regulator Ofqual "to ensure children get the qualifications they need".

In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, Mr Williamson said guidance will be issued on Friday about how pupils unable to sit their exams due to school closures will get their grades.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We expect that it will be based on teacher assessment supported by evidence of internal assessment that has already taken place such as mock exams, and that this will be submitted to the exam boards which will then check submissions to ensure consistency and fairness and award grades accordingly.

"The vast majority of teachers endeavour to give accurate assessments, but the decision to suspend school and college performance tables this year will remove any incentive to do otherwise.

"There will clearly need to be an appeal procedure if candidates feel they have been disadvantaged, and inevitably a great many questions remain about how all of this will work."

John Swinney said three options are being considered in Scotland. Credit: PA

The Scottish Government is assessing options that include children taking their exams this year despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Education Secretary John Swinney said three different possibilities are being considered.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority is to put a specific contingency proposal to the minister, with Mr Swinney due to update MSPs at Holyrood later on Thursday.

These three options are:

  • Continue to run an 'exam diet', but it's logistically very different from the normal way of running exams. Children would be split up into numerous groups around the school
  • Delay the 'exam diet' and do it later in the year
  • Alternative certification, where teachers look at the coursework undertaken, their prior attainment, and the judgment of teachers about their expected performance.

What will happen to free school meals?

Free schools meals will not be lost, ministers have said. Credit: PA

Children entitled to free school dinners will be given vouchers or meals during the coronavirus outbreak, the Government has said.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said no child who would usually be eligible for the free meals should go without while their school is closed or they are self-isolating.

There are around 1.3 million children who are entitled to free school meals. New guidance says schools will be able to provide meals or vouchers for supermarkets and shops.

It will be up to schools to decide how to support these children.

Schools will be able to order vouchers directly from local supermarkets and shops to be emailed, or printed and posted to families, with costs covered by the Department for Education (DfE).

The value of the vouchers offered to each child per week will be higher than the rate usually paid to schools to provide free school meals, the department said.

This recognises families will not be buying food in bulk and may face higher costs, it added.

  • ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner explains the implications of the closures

In Wales, education minister Kirsty Williams said the government there is looking into how children who receive free school meals can still be supported, and said parents should speak with their usual childcare providers for care over the extended break.

She said the Welsh government promises "emergency provisions" to cover free meals while a more “detailed response” is planned.

The Scottish Government likewise said it will work to support vulnerable pupils and those receiving free meals.

And what about childcare?

Boris Johnson warns against leaving children with their grandparents. Credit: PA

Schools in England will not close from Friday for children of key workers and the most vulnerable, Mr Williamson said.

Mr Williamson told MPs: "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 where children who are most vulnerable."

He said he wanted schools to be open for these children during the Easter holidays too.

It is thought that the Cabinet Office will release a full list of these workers later so that families know where they stand.

Those on the list are expected to include NHS workers, school staff and delivery drivers.

Boris Johnson advised against leaving children with grandparents, in case older people become infected.

Ms Sturgeon said key workers including doctors, nurses and emergency service workers who have children will be supported.

First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster said she was exploring how schools there can continue to be a base for the education of children whose parents are health service staff or key workers like the emergency services.

"Educating our children cannot cease and remote learning and home packs for self-study are already being explored over the period ahead."

In Wales, Ms Williams said parents should speak with their usual childcare providers for care over the extended break.

She said childcare settings will remain open until the chief medical officer and Public Health Wales advise they should close.

In Northern Ireland, Education Minister Peter Weir revealed on Thursday morning that a limited number of schools will be open from Monday for the children of healthcare workers.

Will nurseries be closed?

Nurseries will be closed too. Credit: PA

Yes - and it has been described as "absolutely devastating news" that will see early years providers forced to shut down.

The chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has demanded the Government support the nursery sector in the same way other businesses are being supported.

Chief executive Purnima Tanuku said: "This is absolutely devastating news. I have just expressed my total shock and disappointment to the minister, who had previously assured us they would keep nurseries open as long as possible.

"How can the private nursery sector remain sustainable in the face of mass closures and expensive overheads?

"We must have reassurance from government that as well as continuing to pay the early years entitlement funding, they will support the sector in the same way they have promised for other sectors badly affected by this catastrophe.

"Nurseries will lose income from parents but will still have staff to pay and rental or mortgage costs."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Twitter that nurseries will be eligible for a business rates holiday from April 1, which was welcomed by the NDNA.

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