Colleges in England will remain closed indefinitely when they shut their doors on Friday afternoon in response to the coronavirus crisis, education secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed today.
Earlier today, it was announced that colleges in Scotland and Wales would also be closed from Friday.
Coronavirus college closures
Exams such as GCSE and A levels will also be cancelled. "I know that our teachers and those working in education have the full support of the House," Mr Williamson told MPs, adding: "All of those who work in our schools, colleges and universities rightly take their place next to our NHS staff and other key workers as central to our efforts as a country in battling this virus, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for all their support and all they do."
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Many colleges have already announced campus closures and a move to online learning.
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said the announcement raised "major challenges for staff, students and families, but protecting the nation’s health is vital during these uncertain times".
"The education secretary has recognised the vital role that colleges play in their communities. We are working very closely with [the Department for Education] and [the Education and Skills Funding Agency] to manage the flow-on implications of this announcement and, in particular, the funding support colleges need to deliver.”
Mr Williamson made the announcement in Parliament following growing pressure to close schools and colleges over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came shortly before it was revealed GCSEs and A levels were to be cancelled this year.
"The spike of a virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated," he told MPs. "It is crucial that we consider the right measures to arrest this increase and to relieve the pressure on the health system."
Providing 'certainty' for families
Mr Williamson said: “Schools are increasingly finding it more difficult to continue as normal as illness and self-isolation impacts on staffing levels and pupil attendance.
"I want to provide staff and parents, students and staff with the certainty they need. After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon they will remain closed until further notice.
"This will be for all children except those of key workers and children who are most vulnerable."
These include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We support the decision to close schools and colleges in England, and the corresponding decisions which have taken place in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland today. It is the right action at the right time."
The Sixth Form Colleges Association chief executive Bill Watkin said that it was the right decision.
He said: "Big challenges remain, not least how to maintain the education of vulnerable students and the children of key workers. We must not forget the dedication of teachers and support staff who now more than ever will be operating on the front line of our society.
"We will continue to work collaboratively with the Department for Education and others to help address the challenges ahead. We are particularly focused on ensuring that students – who have worked so hard over the past couple of years – secure fair and accurate grades in the absence of any formal assessments taking place this summer."