What would half-term 'circuit break' mean for schools?

What teachers need to know about scientists' proposal for a two-week national lockdown over half-term

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: What would a circuit breaker mean for schools?

Senior scientists have this week supported the idea of a national "circuit breaker" lockdown, running over an extended two-week half-term, from 23 October.

But what would an extended half-term mean in practice for schools? How likely is it? And how would it work?

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Coronavirus: What is a 'circuit breaker'?

The "circuit breaker" would be a national lockdown for a defined period, as opposed to the local lockdowns operating currently.

Pubs and restaurants would probably shut and people would be advised to only use public transport where strictly necessary, in order to bring down the rate of infection.

There are also suggestions that schools should close – possibly for an extra week after half-term.

Who is suggesting it?

There have been reports that scientists from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had proposed a nationwide lockdown in October during the half-term break as a way to contain a second wave of rapidly spreading coronavirus infection.

And former government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said yesterday that "extended half-terms where we try to reduce transmission for a concerted period...should be considered".

He told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: “So we are in a more difficult position. If we want to keep schools open, we have to reduce contacts in other areas of society by more.

“You will have heard measures being discussed across society as a whole, such as extended half-terms where we try to reduce transmission for a concerted period.

“I think those measures should be considered.”

What would its impact be on schools?

Some scientists suggest that keeping schools closed for an extra week over half-term would not have a significant impact on learning.

“As schools will be closed for one week at half-term, adding an extra week to that will have limited impact on education,” a Sage scientist told the Financial Times in September.

Professor Calum Semple, a senior lecturer in child health at the University of Liverpool, who attends Sage meetings, said today that "circuit breakers are something we should be thinking about on a national basis".

However, Professor Ferguson acknowledged that closing schools was "highly disruptive for children's education and social wellbeing".

And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Tes thatwith half-term "nearly upon us", there would be important logistical considerations to resolve and arrangements to put in place.

For example, he asked, would the additional week be an extended holiday, or would schools be expected to stay open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children?

Would schools need to provide remote education for all other pupils?

Also, what would happen over the provision of free school meals?

How likely is it?

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick refused to rule out a two-week lockdown over the half-term when speaking to Sky News, saying: "Obviously we keep these options under review and we don't rule anything out."

But it "seems unlikely at this stage" that schools will be asked to stay closed, according to Mr Barton.

He said: “We would be surprised if the government decides on an additional half-term week, as it has emphasised repeatedly its intention to keep schools and colleges open, and we agree with that priority."

What do teachers think?

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said last month that "if Sage recommends a two-week half-term to suppress Covid and support safer schools and colleges, the NEU would support this".

However, we're now two weeks further down the line, and – as Mr Barton's comments show – school leaders appear unconvinced that an announcement so late in the day would be helpful.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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