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Coronavirus: Schools need clear advice on closures, heads say

  • 13 March 2020
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Image caption There are concerns about how coronavirus may affect the exam season

School leaders are calling for clear guidance ahead of any widespread school closures, as the number of coronavirus cases in the UK continues to rise.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says its members are facing questions from anxious families.

The Department for Education in England is advising all schools to stay open and says its coronavirus helpline for education staff is offering advice.

Exam regulators are urging schools to prepare for public exams as normal.

Ahead of ASCL's annual general conference in Birmingham, on Friday, general secretary Geoff Barton said school and college leadership teams were having to make contingency plans for possible closures, without knowing if, when or for how long their school might close.

Mr Barton said with the Easter holidays looming, many school leaders would like more reassurance about contingency plans for closures.

"Parents and pupils are worried about being the victim of something out of their control and asking, 'Will I get into college or university because of this?'"

England's Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is expected to tell the ASCL conference on Friday the government will follow expert advice on closures.

There are no plans as yet for wholesale school closures in any part of the UK, although schools have been advised to cancel trips abroad.

The Welsh government has been advised school closures are not an appropriate move at the moment, though the situation remains under review.

Likewise, the Scottish government says it does not believe it is necessary to close schools and universities yet.

The Republic of Ireland's decision to close schools, colleges and public childcare facilities until 29 March is likely to affect businesses in Northern Ireland's border region that employ staff from the Irish Republic.

In the meantime, many schools will be assessing how technology could be used to continue pupils' learning in the event of closures.

Sharon Bruton, chief executive of the Keys Federation Academy Trust in Wigan, whose schools use an artificial-intelligence learning platform, said teachers could set assignments via email and social media accounts.

"Schools are adaptable and flexible places - I'm certain school leaders and curriculum leaders will be thinking about how teaching can continue for their students should this be an eventuality," she said.

"Educators are remarkably resilient and adaptable and I think part of our job is to meet the needs of our children and make sure they can thrive in challenging circumstances - and this [coronavirus outbreak] won't be any different."

Image copyright The Keys Academy Trust

Significant school closures, either in numbers of schools or length of time, could reveal big digital and social divides.

The many secondary schools in England that already use cloud technology to share study materials and distribute homework will be quietly testing their systems.

But not all have made that shift - and many primary schools rely more on work sent home in a satchel.

Ofcom says about 85% of 12- to 15-year-olds own their own smartphone, leaving a significant minority who do not.

For families renting or in temporary accommodation, there is no guarantee of access to broadband.

And then there is the difficulty of persuading teenagers to work on their own remotely.

Image copyright The Keys Academy Trust

The exams watchdogs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all urging teachers and students to prepare for the exams season as normal.

In Scotland, where exams start earlier than the rest of the UK, the Scottish Qualifications Authority said there was no change to the 2020 national-qualifications timetable.

"Current deadlines for coursework, and other assessments, remain in place," it added.

England's watchdog, Ofqual, said: "We continue to work closely with exam boards, other regulators and the Department for Education and we have met to plan for a range of scenarios, as the public would expect.

"Our overriding priorities are fairness to students this summer and keeping disruption to a minimum."

Qualifications Wales said: "We will provide guidance on our website to reflect any specific arrangements that schools and colleges should put in place if required."

Northern Ireland's Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) said there were "a broad range of contingencies to ensure the smooth operation of examinations", which would be updated if necessary.

"In the meantime, students, schools and colleges should continue to prepare for the summer examinations and assessments as usual," it added.

Source : BBC News - Family & Education

Coronavirus: Schools need clear advice on closures, heads say

Coronavirus: Schools need clear advice on closures, heads say