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School closures, remote learning, critical workers, nurseries and more: your lockdown education questions answered

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This week the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown to help combat the spread of Covid-19. This is a guide to what it means for schools, colleges, early years settings and more.

Who will still be receiving face to face learning this period of national restrictions?

During this period of national lockdown, schools, alternative provision, special schools, and colleges will remain open to vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers only. All other children will learn remotely until February half term.

A definition of what classifies as a vulnerable child can be found here.

Critical workers are classified as parents whose work is critical to the coronavirus and EU transition response. A full list can be found here.

University students will be required to stay at home and higher education provision will remain online until mid-February for all except future critical worker courses.

All early years providers (including childminders but not including reception years in primary schools) can remain open as normal during this period.

So why can early years settings like nurseries open and not schools – what is the difference?

Early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children.

0-5 year olds continue to have the lowest rates of coronavirus of all age groups. Evidence shows that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and are not playing a driving role in transmission.

The reason we are closing schools is not because they are unsafe but because additional measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus in the community. Doing that enables us to keep nurseries and childminders open, support parents and deliver the crucial care and education needed for our youngest children.

What about SEND and AP schools? Will they still be open to all their pupils?

We have prioritised vulnerable children and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities throughout the pandemic. We know these are difficult times, and that’s why we’re addressing these issues urgently.

Alternative Provision and special schools remain open to vulnerable children and children of key workers, as with all schools. We are working closely with the sector and will publish guidance in due course.

Do both parents or just one need to be a critical worker?

Children with at least one parent or carer who is listed as a critical worker are eligible for a school place. It is not necessary for both parents to be critical workers.

Schools and colleges will speak to parents and carers to identify who requires a school place.

Your child’s school may ask for simple evidence that you are critical worker, such as your work ID badge or pay slip.

What about if my child does not have access to a laptop and/or the internet at home?

Due to the dedication of teachers and school leaders, the vast majority of schools have already been delivering remote education where it has been needed. The temporary continuity direction makes it clear that schools have a duty to provide remote education for state-funded, school-age children.

To support pupils’ digital access, we have bought more than one million laptops and tablets and have already delivered over 560,000 of these to schools and local authorities, with an extra 100,000 this week alone. We are also working with all the UK’s leading mobile network operators, to provide free data to key educational sites. Oak National Academy continues to provide video lessons in a broad range of subjects for reception up to year 11, including content for pupils with SEND.

We are today publishing updated remote education guidance for schools and colleges while on-site attendance is restricted. This includes an expectation that schools overcome pupil barriers to digital access, by for example distributing school-owned laptops accompanied by a user agreement or contract or providing printed resources (such as textbooks and workbooks) to structure learning, supplemented with other forms of communication to keep pupils on track or answer questions about work.

It may also be that some pupils who have difficulty engaging in remote education may be considered to be vulnerable children, and therefore eligible to attend provision in person. As outlined in the guidance, this is a decision based on local discretion and the needs of the child and their family, as well as a wide range of other factors.

So are this year’s exams cancelled?

We can confirm that our position is that we will not be asking student to sit GCSEs and A Levels exams this summer – we, with Ofqual, will consult on how to award all pupils with a grade to ensure they can progress.

Aren’t some vocational exams due to go ahead next week? Will they still go ahead?

We are confident that VTQ exams can safely go ahead. Schools and colleges have already implemented extensive protective measures to make them as safe as possible and we will continue to support them to deliver these where required in the safest way. However, it is important to note that no student will be disadvantaged if they can’t take their exam or assessment or decide they don’t want to.

We understand these are difficult times but students have worked hard and prepared for theses exams and assessments so it is right that schools and colleges are given an option to opportunity to run them, if they judge that the right decision.

Unlike GCSE and A Levels exams that were due to take place this summer, these students’ learning has not yet been disrupted by the new public health measures we have announced to help limit the transmission of coronavirus.

When will my child be able to go back to school?

We know that being in school and college is best not just for children’s education but their development and wellbeing as well.

We will be reviewing the restrictions on schools, colleges and universities to ensure that children return to school as soon as restrictions can be lifted.

All children will be required to learn remotely until February half term.

What is the plan for when children return to school? Will they all go back at the same time?

We will keep plans for the return to school under review and will inform schools and parents of the plans ahead of February half term.

What is the current situation with testing?

The existing provision of testing remains in place for those that are physically attending school in the New Year. There will be:

  • Weekly testing for secondary, college, special and AP staff where they are working on site school
  • Two tests, three to five days apart, to students in year 7 and above attending in person (critical worker children and vulnerable children)
  • Daily testing for staff and students in the groups above if they are a close contact of a positive case where they are working on site

We continue to explore the rollout of testing for primary staff in the second half of January as planned.

We will also set out any further increase in testing in preparation for a wider return of more pupils to school and college in due course.

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