Key questions about exams and school closures

Schools across the UK are closing their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. But what does this mean?

– So, what is actually happening?

In England, schools will shut on Friday.

In Scotland and Wales, all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday.

Schools in Northern Ireland will shut from Monday.

Locked gates at Rockcliffe First School in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear (Owen Humphreys/PA)

– How long will they be closed for?

The answer to that is we just don’t know.

The Government has simply said that England’s schools will shut “until further notice”.

Education is a devolved issue, so closures will be determined by individual nations.

Schools around the UK were due break up for Easter in around two weeks’ time.

– Does this mean all schools will be shut?

The Government has said that schools in England will remain open to the children of key workers.

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.

Northern Ireland has indicated that provision will be made for the children of healthcare workers.

– Why has the Government decided to close schools now?

The Government had been keeping schools under “constant review” and announced on Wednesday that now was the time to apply “further downward pressure” on the upward curve of the virus by closing them.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said school is “not dangerous” for children during the coronavirus pandemic, but that the decision to close them will slow the rise of infections.

– How will children receive an education when they are not in school?

Like much related to the coronavirus outbreak, it is a fast-moving situation, and much of the detail on what will happen is unknown.

What we do know is that schools are likely to have been planning for every eventuality, and there may be moves to online learning where possible, or children given learning packs.

School exam stock
A-level and GCSE exams due to be taken in England and Wales in May and June have been cancelled (David Davies/PA)

– What about exams?

In England and Wales, A-level and GCSE exams, due to be taken in May and June, have been cancelled.

More information about exams in Scotland is likely to be announced later.

– How will children receive their qualifications?

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

He has indicated that guidance will be issued on Friday as to how pupils unable to sit their exams due to school closures will get their grades.

School leaders have said they expect that grades will be based on teacher assessment and evidence of internal assessment, such as mock exams. This could then be submitted to the exam boards to check.

Rest assured, this was the last decision I wanted to take. But it could be the one that helps the NHS to stay afloat.

— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) March 18, 2020

Mr Williamson said the Government will do “everything we can” to make sure children get results in August, but it hard to predict how events will unfold.

– And what about university places?

This is another issue that is up in the air.

If sixth-formers are awarded A-level grades this summer, then these can be used as usual to admit students on to degree courses.

If it is not possible to award grades in sufficient time, then one possibility is to admit students based on things like predicted grades and personal statements.

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