Coronavirus: FAQs as schools face ‘closure’ confusion

The announcement that schools will close, but with numerous exceptions, has left teachers asking many questions
20th March 2020, 10:50am


Coronavirus: FAQs as schools face ‘closure’ confusion
Coronavirus: Tes Tries To Answer Teachers' Questions About School Closures

The government’s announcement that schools across the UK will now close, with the exception in England where they should remain open for children with parents who are deemed key workers or for vulnerable children, has caused much confusion.

Teachers have taken to social media to pose many of the questions that the situation has raised, which we have attempted to answer with the help of the NAHT school leaders’ union - which has published its own guidance.

It is also worth noting that different advice is also being given for schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales so the below fundamentally applies for English schools.

But remember this is a fast-moving situation, so we will update regularly. 

Are school staff going to be considered as coronavirus key workers? 

The list of who the government designates as key workers has now been released. This includes “nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the Covid-19 response to deliver this approach”. 

They are deemed key workers because of the role they will have to play in looking after the children of other key workers, such as NHS staff, police and other emergency services.

What do I do if I work in a school and don’t know if I am considered a key worker?’

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.

Who else are deemed key workers?

The full list of those who are deemed key workers has been released by government and can be found here on Tes.

Which children are classed as vulnerable?

The government advice on who is listed as a vulnerable pupil is as follows: 

“Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

“Children who have a social worker include children in need, children who have a child protection plan and those who are looked after by the local authority. We will work with schools, early years, FE providers and local authorities to help identify the children who most need support at this time.

“We know that schools will also want to look to support other children who are vulnerable where they are able to do so.”

This last sentence suggests there is flexibility for teachers to decide who they may deem vulnerable outside of the initial criteria. 

The NAHT has also said it expects teachers to be given the opportunity to ensure that they are able to help children who they feel would benefit from being in school, rather than at home.

“There may be some flexibility around this definition so that schools can identify pupils they know to be most vulnerable and offer a place, even if they do not meet the [specific] criteria,” its guidance states. 

Are schools expected to continue normal teaching?

No. Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said that schools are not expected to follow the national curriculum but are primarily safe spaces for children of key support workers or those with specialist needs.

“The reason we had to make the difficult decision to close them [the schools], the reason we had to make the difficult decision to say we’re not going to be able to continue with exams, is the level of support that would be offered in those schools for children of those key workers and those vulnerable children is going to be a safe place for those children to be,” he said.

“It’s not going to be an educational setting, they’re not going to be teaching the national curriculum, but it’s going to be safe place for people who are key to combating this virus and keeping the country moving forward.”

Will schools have to remain open to children of key workers over Easter?

Government has certainly asked whether this can be possible. Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday 18 March, Mr Williamson said: “Given the unprecedented asks that we are making of all those who are working in educational settings at this time, I recognise that we are asking so much of them. We will be asking them to provide for these settings to be open to children of key workers and to vulnerable children during the Easter holidays as well.”

However, the NAHT stresses that this is not mandatory. “The key words here are ‘where possible’ and ‘encourage’. There is no sign this will be mandatory,” states its guidance. 

It adds that if provision is provided over Easter, “our understanding is that this does not necessarily have to be school staff; it could be run or supported by locally coordinated childcare teams, play leaders, sports leaders, etc, if they are available to do this. Contact your local authority to see what plans they are making to coordinate this effort.”

What should teachers who have their own children at home do?

Based on government advice to date, it would seem that teachers - if not self-isolating - will be required to attend their regular setting to provide the teaching and safeguarding of children of key workers.

Further, with teachers themselves almost certainly designated as key workers, it would seem logical that children of teachers should continue to attend their own school setting as normal as well.

How many children can attend school?

“NAHT’s view is that the vast majority of pupils should be staying at home on Monday. School is a last resort for those who need it. We are working on the basis that this should not exceed 20 per cent of the school population, but we are seeking clarity from the Department for Education on that figure,” says James Bowen, NAHT director of policy.

“Ultimately, schools will have to prioritise and will only be able to offer places where it is safe for them to do so.” 

The NAHT guidance offers some suggested approaches to prioritisation.

Other key guides

Coronavirus: a closure checklist for school leaders
Coronavirus closures: 9 key safeguarding areas
Coronavirus closures: how to support secondary students
Coronavirus closures: how to support primary pupils
Coronavirus closures: how to support children in EYFS

Will staff who are not usually paid during holiday time receive wages?

Yes. Responding to a question on the issue of whether or not support staff - who are not usually paid out of term-time - would receive payment for any work during Easter holidays, Mr Williamson confirmed they will be paid.

What will happen for pupils who receive free school meals?

The government is to launch a voucher scheme to ensure that children eligible for free school meals will continue to have access to hot food while schools shut down for the foreseeable future.

My Williamson said: “We will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children who are eligible for free school meals.

“Some schools are already doing this and we will make sure those costs are reimbursed. As soon as possible, we will put in place a national voucher system for every child who is eligible for free school meals.”

He added: “I would like to progress to a stage where, in a large number of schools around the country, there is also the ability to have meals there provided, but that will be dependent in terms of staffing in each of those schools.”

More information on this has been published by the government, including around how it is developing the voucher system: “We are currently developing a national approach to providing support through supermarket and shop vouchers. We will provide further details shortly.

“You should check which pupils are eligible and currently in receipt of free school meals, and vouchers should be made available to the parent or the adult with caring responsibility for that child.”

How will students be given grades if they don’t sit exams?

New information from the government issued on Friday 20 March outlines that, essentially, teachers will be asked to provide predicted grades based on ” a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment”.

It continues: “The exam boards will be asking teachers, who know their students well, to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead,” the guidance states.

“Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students.

When will grades be awarded based on this process?

The government states that it wants to provide calculated grades to students before the end of July.

It also says it will try and ensure there is no notable shift in outcomes from previous years to disadvantage students.

“We will [...] aim to ensure that the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in other years, so that this year’s students do not face a systematic disadvantage as a consequence of these extraordinary circumstances.”

Will students have the option to sit exams at all?

Yes. Notably, the government states that students who wish to sit their exams will be able to do so from the start of the next academic year - i.e. September 2020 - or in summer of 2021.

“There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.”

“Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021.”

Will there be an appeals process for grades awarded?

Yes. Government advice states that if students do not believe the “correct process has been followed” in determining their grades they will be able to appeal.

Furthermore, as noted, students can also use the opportunity to sit an exam “at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again” as well as in summer 2021.

We will be updating this article as more information on key issues facing teachers and schools becomes available.

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