Coronavirus school closures explained – who’s affected and food bank vouchers
Schools across the UK will shut their gates from Friday in a landmark move to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Millions of British children will be sent home – meaning their parents are forced to stay home too to care for them.
And sending children to live with grandparents is not an option because they are most at risk from COVID-19.
It will radically alter millions of parents' lives – and mean GCSEs and A-levels are cancelled leaving millions of teenagers in limbo.
But not all children are being told to stay away from school. Those of key workers – including police, NHS workers and delivery drivers – will still attend.
The move was announced today as UK cases soared by 676 in a day to 2,626. The government admitted the virus was spreading more quickly than anticipated and needed drastic action.
Here is everything you need to know.
When are schools shutting in each region?
Schools in England will operate this Friday and then shut their gates from the end of the school day. The below details mostly concern schools in England but many of them will also apply to other regions.
Schools in Wales will close on Friday "at the latest". The Welsh government said: "From next week, schools will have a new purpose. They will help support those most in need, including people involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak."
Schools in Scotland will also close by the end of the week.
Schools are to close across Northern Ireland from Monday – with the potential to remain that way until summer.
Are all schools affected?
But the government hopes no schools will shut entirely, at least not at first.
All schools will shut their doors to most pupils (see below) from Friday.
The Department for Education hopes all schools will remain open for some pupils (see below).
However, officials accept that as the virus takes hold, it may not be possible for some schools to remain open at all.
It's understood all schools will be told to stay open for at least two further weeks (for key workers and vulnerable children), which will give them time to work out alternative arrangements.
This could give time to allow, for example, some schools to remain open and take another school's pupils if it has to shut.
What about sixth form colleges, FE colleges and universities?
Sixth form and Further Education colleges will also close from Friday.
Universities however are not being told to close – although many suspended face-to-face teaching last week.
Are all children affected?
Children of "key workers" will still be told to go into school. Key workers include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers.
That is not the exhaustive list of key workers and those three job titles are just examples. A full list of 'key workers' will be published by the Cabinet Office on Thursday.
"Vulnerable pupils" will also be asked to turn up to school. That means children who either have a social worker, or an education, health and care plan.
Does this mean my child is at risk?
No, not especially.
Research so far suggests the younger you are, the less likely you are to have complications from COVID-19. The death rate is tiny for the under-50s.
Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said children often won't even know they've had the virus.
The problem is that if all children are going to school they spread the virus more quickly and could pass it to their families and wider society.
"This is about a measure to protect all of us. It's not a measure because there's some specific risk to children," he said.
Can I leave my child with their grandparents?
No, not if you can help it.
Older people are more at risk from the virus and the over-70s, or people with underlying health conditions, have been warned to be particularly strict with social distancing.
Boris Johnson urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.
What will happen to GCSE and A-level exams?
They will be cancelled.
"Exams will not take place as planned in May and June", Boris Johnson said.
The Prime Minister said the government would ensure pupils get the qualifications they need. However he did not say how or what form that would take.
Thousands of students will have university or college offers dependent on their A-level results.
"We will make sure their progress is not impeded as a result of the decision we're having to take now," Mr Johnson said.
It is possible universities could use predicted grades, if they resume as normal in September, but this is not confirmed.
What if my child gets free school meals?
The Government will put in place a national voucher system for children eligible for free school meals.
The exact details of this voucher system – including how to redeem vouchers, where and whether they are online or on paper – have not been confirmed yet. Details will only be issued in the coming days.
It is thought this applies to children who receive means-tested free school meals in low-income families, rather than infant school pupils who receive them universally. However, we are double checking this with the government.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government has not ruled out making extra payments from the DWP to make up for the loss, but the first step was a voucher system.
Asked for more detail Mr Williamson said: "In order to make sure that every child who is eligible for a meal is able to access it we are moving to issue vouchers to every eligible child immediately from next week.
"I would like to progress to a stage where in some schools there are meals provided, but that depends on staffing in those schools."
Will all teachers still have to go to work?
We have asked the government to clarify whether all teachers who are able to be in the school will be expected to.
Naturally, some teachers will be unable to attend due to the need to self-isolate or due to illness.
It's thought the nature of teachers' work – whether they will be teaching lessons to pupils who turn up, or whether it will essentially be a childcare function – will be at the discretion of head teachers.
We don't know.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she could not guarantee schools would reopen until after the summer holidays.
Boris Johnson did not give any time scale. He said: "We're going to try to keep it to an absolute minimum".
He added: "I wish I could give you an answer."
"Exams will not take place as planned in May and June", Boris Johnson said. He said the government would ensure pupils get the qualifications they need.
Why weren't schools shut before now?
The government's advisors always said shutting schools would help slow the spread of the virus – but it wasn't the "number one" factor.
On top of that, there was the problem of mass absences from work the moment millions of people have to take time off to look after their kids.
That slows down society and harms the functioning of the NHS. So it had to get to a tipping point where the disadvantages of keeping schools open outweighed the benefits.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said if the scientific advice changed on the benefit of keeping schools open the government was always prepared to change its policy.
“We are now at that stage,” he told MPs.
“The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated and it is crucial we continue to consider the right measures to arrest this increase and relieve the pressure on the health system.
“The public health benefits of schools remaining open as normal are shifting.”
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