All schools to close indefinitely on Friday afternoon due to coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 17:39 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 19:11 18 March 2020
All schools will close from Friday afternoon for an indefinite period, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.
In a statement in the Commons, he said he “expected” the shutdown to combat coronavirus to also apply to early years settings, sixth forms and further education colleges.
And he added: “I’m asking that independent schools and boarding schools follow the same approach.”
Mr Williamson said schools would remain open to accommodate the “children of key workers and vulnerable children”.
And he said “as soon as possible”, a scheme would put in place to provide meal vouchers for children eligible for free school meals.
The announcement, which follows similar ones on Wednesday in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will affect 450-plus schools and colleges across Norfolk and hundreds more in Suffolk - not to mention more than 100,000 children and many thousands of parents and carers.
Mr Williamson said the rate of coronavirus spreading had “accelerated”, and added: “It’s clear that schools are finding it more difficult to continue as normal, as illness and self-isolation impacts on staff levels and attendance.
“I want to provide pupils, parents and staff with the certainty that they need.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.
He said meals and vouchers would be provided for pupils who currently receive free school lunches, but said “exams will not take place as planned in May and June”.
Norfolk County Council education bosses reacted to the news ad have said the closures do not mean the end of children’s education.
Chris Snudden, director for education and learning at Norfolk County Council, said: “We’d like to thank Norfolk’s headteachers, principals and teachers for the tremendous work they are doing in really challenging circumstances.
“We’ve provided a range of advice and support to schools in recent weeks and been helping them to plan for any government directed closure.
“The closure of schools does not mean the end of children’s education – the expectation is that schools continue to set work for children and teach their pupils remotely as much as they possibly can.
“The ask from the government is that schools stay open to support childcare for key workers – those in the health service, emergency services or others that play a key role in supporting vital services in these difficult times.
“We know that Norfolk’s schools and their dedicated teachers will rise to this challenge and we are here to help and support in whatever way we can.”
Schools and academies had been planning for potential closure and will communicate their plans with parents via their usual routes. This will include how they will set work and how parents can support their children’s learning.
The council is awaiting guidance from the government on how to support children entitled to free school meals. However, it has contingency plans in plan should these be needed.
Sarah Shirras, joint chair of Educate Norfolk, said: “We have been preparing for potential closure, alongside a range of agencies, to make sure that children continue to get access to education and support. Schools have their own individual plans, which they will be sharing with parents over the coming days.
“Schools and academies will be vital in providing childcare to families whose parents are key workers, across a range of services and professions. We will be working together to help those parents continue to work over the coming weeks.”