Coronavirus: Schools shut down prompts exams clarity calls

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Schools and universities are calling for urgent clarity from the government after the announcement that GCSEs and A-Levels in England and Wales will be cancelled amid the coronavirus crisis.

Schools in the UK will close their doors on Friday except for vulnerable pupils or children of key workers.

Universities UK said pupils should not lose the chance to go to university this year because of the move.

The government says there are plans to ensure children receive qualifications.

It comes as the UK death toll rose by 33 to 104 on Wednesday.

In other developments across the globe:

China reported no new domestic cases on Wednesday for the first time since the outbreak
But Asian countries are seeing a second wave of infections from people returning home
Australia and New Zealand will close their borders to non-residents from Friday
Confirmed cases worldwide have passed 200,000, while more than 8,000 people have died

Announcing the closure of schools in England on Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs officials were working with exam boards “to ensure that children get the qualifications they need”.

Scotland and Wales earlier said schools would close from Friday while schools in Northern Ireland will close to pupils today and to staff on 23 March.

This academic year’s exams, which were due to take place in May and June, will not go ahead in England and Wales. Decisions are due to be made in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Schools supporting key workers’ children will be expected to remain open during the Easter holidays, while officials are considering who is classed under this category.

Staff and pupils may be required to work at or attend schools other than their own.

Nurseries, private schools and sixth forms are also being told to follow the guidance to close.

School closure is something the health officials advising government have been continuously asked about.

Their stance has always been that while it can suppress a peak – a 15% reduction has been put forward – some of the gain would be offset by the fact children will still mix outside of school. Parents, including health workers, may have to take time off work or grandparents – one of the vulnerable groups they are trying to protect – may have to look after them.

What is more, children are the age group least likely to get severe symptoms – only 0.2% of cases end up in hospital.

In the end it has undoubtedly come down to two factors.

Firstly, it might just do enough to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed – as suggested by the new modelling by Imperial College London published on Monday.

Secondly, practicalities – increasing numbers of teachers and children are having to isolate at home and classes and exams would be seriously disrupted in the coming months regardless of what was done.

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