What England's new lockdown means for schools and colleges

Schools and colleges in England are again being asked to switch to distance learning as part of a third national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson said the government had “done everything in our power to keep schools open,” but the educational environment was acting as a “transmitter” and was at risk of spread between households.

Here the PA news agency deals with questions arising from the plans:

– What did Mr. Johnson say?

In his address on Monday evening, Mr Johnson announced the biggest changes in schooling since the initial lockdown almost 10 months ago under tighter restrictions.

He said: “Because we must do everything now to stop the spread of the disease, elementary schools, secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote care starting tomorrow.”

The plans will be in place by at least mid-February.

– Is that a U-turn?

Since the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus in parts of the UK last month, debate has continued over whether students should be physically in schools.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said it was “right for education and for public health” to keep schools open. The Greenwich Council has been warned that they could take legal action if they fail to keep their schools open in December, and on Sunday Mr Johnson said he understood concerns about child returns for the new semester but said he did “no doubt” that schools are safe and that education is a “priority”.

Referring to Monday, Mr. Johnson said, ‚ÄúParents whose children were in school today reasonably wonder why we didn’t make this decision sooner. However, the government worked to keep the schools open because “we know how important every day in education is for the life chances of children”.

– What remains open?

Children at risk and children of key workers can continue to attend colleges, elementary and secondary schools, and Mr Johnson said kindergartens and other facilities will remain open for early years in England.

– What about elsewhere in the UK?

In Scotland, kindergartens and schools are closed to most until February, while online learning is available in Wales until January 18.

Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said distance learning time for school children will be extended and more details are expected on Tuesday.

The most recent plan was for elementary school students to have distance learning for the week of January 4-8, while for secondary school years 8-11, distance learning would be for the entire month.

– What about exams?

Mr Johnson said it was “not possible or fair” for all summer exams to run as normal, adding, “The Secretary of Education will work with Ofqual to make alternative arrangements.”

The Daily Telegraph has reported that an option is being considered to hold exams for core subjects such as English and math, as well as other subjects that are assessed through coursework.

However, according to government guidelines, the exams submitted for January will continue as planned, which will involve more than 135,000 students, according to the Association of Colleges.

– How was the reaction to that?

Calling for a rethink, CEO David Hughes said, “I think they should be canceled – it’s not safe for them to move on, and it’s not fair for students or staff.

“The Prime Minister has said that everyone should stay home as much as possible. So how can he expect college staff to come over for surveillance or for students to feel safe enough to take exams?”

– What about universities?

The latest guidelines on returning to universities divide students into two groups.

Those taking courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, education, or social work will return to campus for the spring semester and be tested twice or self-isolated for 10 days.

All other students are told to stay where they are and begin their semester online, with distance learning “at least until mid-February”.


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