Swine flu schools let pupils sit exams - but keep their distance

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Desks are moved further apart and disinfected afterwards

Pupils up and down the country are sitting external exams at their schools even if they have been shut because of swine flu.

Advice from the Health Protection Agency says schools can open for exams even if all the other children have been sent home.

Last week, Year 6 pupils at Barnes Primary in Richmond, west London, were asked to come in for a Sats test even though the school was closed after a child developed swine flu.

The school, which came joint second in the borough's league table in 2008, was closed on Thursday May 14, when the Year 3 child fell ill. The school is due to reopen on June 2 after half-term.

In a letter to parents, headteacher Mark Hartley said that, despite the closure, the HPA had agreed that the final Sats test, a maths paper, could take place as planned.

The letter said: "Children must not attend if they have flu-like symptoms. It is also essential that children undertaking exams must not congregate in a group before or after the exam. They are advised to return home immediately after the exam ends."

The school was also open last Friday afternoon for parents of Year 3 pupils to collect antiviral medicine. It was not considered necessary for those in other year groups.

Government advice on examination procedure during a swine flu outbreak has a range of options.

Schools can open for candidates to take their exam, but if this is not possible "special consideration" may need to be sought for the candidates (see panel, right). A third option is for candidates to take the exam at another location.

Year 11 pupils at Castle View School on Canvey Island, Essex, sat GCSEs at the school while it was shut earlier this month.

The school closed for a week after two Year 8 pupils contracted the virus, but it reopened on Monday.

Headteacher Russell Sullivan said: "There was at least one exam every day, and sometimes two. We took advice and increased infection-control measures. That meant more space between desks and making sure they were disinfected after each exam."

He said the senior management team had considered asking for "special consideration" (see panel, right), which would have meant submitting evidence of teacher assessment, but ruled it out as unnecessary.

He said: "Pupils in Year 11 are really primed for the exams. They have prepared hard for them and I don't think it would be doing them any favours going for another option. We did look at it, but we were able to open and that served pupils' better, so we did." See cover story, TES Magazine


- Who decides if the school closes?

Usually the headteacher after discussions with the local health protection unit.

- Can the school open for exams?

Yes, it may be possible.

- What precautions should be taken?

The local health protection unit will give advice. Castle View secondary in Essex put desks further apart than usual and disinfected them after use.

- What if a candidate has flu-like symptoms on the day of the exam?

Candidates and their parents should be advised in advance that, if symptoms develop, they should not attend and contact the swine flu helpline on 0800 1 513 513. The school should notify the local health protection unit.

- What if a candidate develops flu-like symptoms during the exam?

The chances that this is swine flu are very low, but pupils should be removed from the exam room. The school's flu plan should be followed.

- How should the exam process be handled for healthy candidates?

Minimise the time they are grouped together before and after exams.

- What should the school do if it cannot open for exams?

Apply for "special consideration", which allows an awarding body to give a grade where an exam cannot be taken, provided there is sufficient evidence to make a reasonable judgement. www.teachernet.gov.uk.

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