How lockdown will impact education: Key questions answered

Schools and colleges in England will again be asked to shift to remote learning as part of a third national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson said the government had been doing “everything in our power to keep schools open”, but that educational settings act as “vectors for transmission” and there is a risk of spreading between households.

Here, the PA news agency looks at questions raised by the plans:

– What did Mr Johnson say?

In his Monday evening address, Mr Johnson announced the biggest changes to schooling since the first lockdown nearly 10 months ago as part of harsher restrictions.

He said: “Because we now have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote provision from tomorrow.”

The plans will be in place until at least February half term.

– Is this a U-turn?

There has been continued debate about whether pupils should be physically in schools since the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in parts of the UK last month.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said it was “right for education and for public health” to keep schools open, Greenwich council were warned they could face legal action if they did not keep their schools open in December, and on Sunday Mr Johnson said he understood concerns about children returning for the new term, but said he had “no doubt” that schools were safe and that education was a “priority”.

Mr Johnson referred to this on Monday, saying “parents whose children were in school today may reasonably ask why we did not take this decision sooner”, but said Government had been working to keep schools open as “we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances”.

– What will stay open?

Vulnerable children and those of key workers will still be able to go to colleges, primary and secondary schools, and Mr Johnson said nurseries and other early years settings will remain open in England.

– What about elsewhere in the UK?

In Scotland, nurseries and schools will be closed to most until February, while online learning will be brought in for Wales until January 18.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the period of remote learning for schoolchildren would be extended with further details expected on Tuesday.

The most recent plan was for primary pupils to be taught remotely for the week from January 4-8, while for secondary school Years 8 to 11, remote learning is due to last for the entire month.

– What about exams?

Mr Johnson said it would not be “possible or fair” for all exams to go ahead as normal in the summer, adding: “The Education Secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements.”

However, Government guidance suggests exams tabled for January will continue as scheduled which, according to the Association of Colleges, involves more than 135,000 students.

Chief executive David Hughes has called for a rethink, saying: “I think they should be cancelled – it is not safe for them to go ahead and it is not fair for students nor for staff.

“The Prime Minister has said that everyone should stay at home as much as possible, so how can he expect college staff to go in to invigilate, or students to feel safe enough to sit exams?”

– What about universities?

The latest guidance on the return to universities splits students into two groups.

Those who are on courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, education or social work will be returning to campus for the spring term and be tested twice or self-isolate for 10 days.

All other students are being told to remain where they are and will start their term online, with distance learning in place “until at least Mid-February”.