Schools to stay open as Government urges against all ‘non-essential contact’

Schools are being instructed to remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic despite further social distancing measures announced by the Government.

The Prime Minister said all people in the UK should avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, stop all non-essential contact and travel, and work from home if they can.

But Boris Johnson stopped short of announcing school closures – telling a press briefing that although the measures will remain "under review", it is "much better" they currently stay open.

It comes as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson holds talks with unions and school leaders, where they are expected to discuss the implications of schools being closed and exams being postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Johnson said: "We're keeping all measures under review and particularly obviously people will be thinking about school closures, there is an argument about school closures.

"We think at the moment, on balance, it's much better if we can keep schools open for all sorts of reasons.

"But I appreciate that this is again something that we need to keep under review."

On potential school closures, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told the briefing on Monday it needed to be done "at the right time".

"It is also possible, as laid out in the plan, that other measures may be necessary, including at some point, as we've said, it may be necessary to think about things like school closures," he said.

"But those things again need to be done at the right time, in the right way, at the right stage of the outbreak."

Mr Williamson is due to meet representatives from the NAHT school leaders' union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) on Monday.

Ahead of the meeting, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said that although teachers are concerned about the impact on exams and assessments, the "main priority" is keeping children safe.

He said: "For some children, a day at school is a place of sanctuary and nourishment as well as a place of education.

Press release: Meeting with Education Secretary on coronavirus emergency https://t.co/JfVu2MrdZq#coronavirusuk#COVID_19ukpic.twitter.com/E7hGAYQtpI

— ASCL (@ASCL_UK) March 16, 2020

"Once the immediate issues are under control, I am confident that school leaders and their teams will do all that they can to support children and young people throughout the remainder of the crisis."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said he would be raising with the Education Secretary the challenges of keeping schools open amid staff shortages, and the potential for disruption during exam season.

He said: "We aim to work through these issues in order to arrive at constructive solutions about the way ahead.

"School and college leaders are 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."