In a press conference this evening (March 18) Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools across the United Kingdom would be closing their gates on Friday. With schools set to close “until further notice” this thew up a number of questions about the government’s plans.
When do Schools Close?
Most UK schools will continue to operate until the end of the week, closing indefinitely from the end of Friday. Some schools are already closed, but the majority will remain open for the rest of the week.
What about the Children of Essential Workers?
Although schools are closed for the majority of pupils, the children of key workers will still be looked after. Those working in specific fields (NHS, emergency workers, and delivery workers) will still be able to drop their children off at school, where they will be looked after, allowing their parents to continue working.
What about Parents Rely on School Services?
The government has said that provisions would be put in place to assist parents whose children rely on free school meals. Gavin Williamson told the Commons that vouchers and meals would be offered to the affected children to ensure that they don’t go without vital meals.
What about GCSEs and A-Levels?
The scheduled to be held in May and June will no longer be happening. Johnson reassured students that they would still get the qualifications they require, but so far hasn’t explained how this will happen.
Gavin Williamson commented on this issue saying that “I can confirm that we will not go ahead with assessments or exams, and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year. We will work with the sector to ensure children get the qualifications that they need.”
Up until this evening, the government was clear that everything would be done at the right time, and that the time to close schools hadn’t arrived. So what made them suddenly shift their approach?
Gavin Williamson told MPs that “the spike of the virus is happening at a faster pace than anticipated, and it is right to consider the right measures to arrest this increase and to relieve this pressure on the health system”. Leaving schools open increases the risk of the virus’s spread, with children and parents congregating in and around schools. Therefore the hope is that by closing schools and decreasing contact, they can reduce the virus’s rate of spread.
The government has continued to insist that schools are still safe, and children and teachers are safe going into schools. During the press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance was keen to emphasise that children are at a lower risk than adults, and as such closing schools isn’t explicitly about protecting children. Instead, by closing schools, they want to extend their isolation strategies and prevent the disease from being passed to more vulnerable people within society.