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Schools waiting for guidance over key workers - and what will happen with GCSE and A-level exams

PUBLISHED: 10:36 19 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:14 19 March 2020

Education secretary Gavin Williamson. Pic: PA Wire

Education secretary Gavin Williamson. Pic: PA Wire

Parents, teachers and pupils are waiting for further government guidance over how teaching will continue for key workers when schools shut - and what will happen to students who had been due to take exams.

Ashley Best-White.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYAshley Best-White.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The government said yesterday that schools across England would close from Friday, with some schools in Norfolk having already shut or partially shut because of staff shortages amid coronavirus.

But the government said education would continue for the children of key workers - although a list of precisely who that would be has yet to be published - and for vulnerable children.

The government has said NHS workers, police and supermarket delivery drivers were key workers, but a clearer definition is expected today.

That means some schools will need to stay open, although it is not yet clear whether some children will be moved to other schools.

Ashley Best-White, executive headteacher at The Nebula Federation, which includes Horsford Primary School, Frettenham Primary School, Hainford Primary School, Old Catton Junior School, White Woman Lane and St Faith’s Primary School, wrote to parents to say the federation was seeking further information.

She said: “We do not know which professions are classed as key workers or the exact definition of vulnerable children. This has not yet been shared with us. We know that everyone who works plays an important role in society, but the children who will be allowed to attend school will be on a given list.

“Children will not be allowed to attend school because parents need to work if they are not in a classified key worker role.”

She said, once schools get the list, it will be shared with parents who will need to evidence that they are in a key worker role.

And she warned, if school staffing levels fall, they could yet have to shut even to the children of defined key workers.

Some schools have been ringing parents to ask if they are key workers, while others had sent letters home earlier in the week asking parents to give information, in anticipation of future closures.

Schools have also been getting ready for on-line teaching while children are at home.

The government announced that GCSEs and A-levels will be cancelled - although prime minister Boris Johnson said there are plans for students to receive qualifications.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government will be issuing guidance on Friday as to how pupils unable to sit their GCSEs and A-levels because of the school closures will be awarded their grades.

He said there will be a “proper and fair system” of appeal for those who are unhappy with the results they are given.

He said: “We will be doing everything we can do to make sure they get their results in August as they will be hoping to, but we can’t predict as to how they are going to unfold,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It is absolutely vital for me for those children who have put so much work into all their learning over these years working up to their GCSEs and A-levels to get their results, but also making sure that we have a proper and fair system if they dispute that, if they are not content with it, there is some mechanism for them to have redress.”

MORE: Students left in limbo after exam cancellations

Jo Philpott, headteacher of City of Norwich School, tweeted that she realised that year 11 and 13 pupils would be anxious about their GCSEs and A-levels and that assemblies would take place today to share information and answer questions.

Teenagers affected by the decision to cancel this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams could be awarded grades based on teacher assessment and the results of their mocks, it has been suggested.

School leaders said it is thought these proposed grades could be submitted to exam boards to check to ensure “consistency and fairness”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told the PA news agency: “We are waiting for details from Ofqual about how GCSEs and A-levels will be assessed and grades awarded in lieu of exams.

“However, we expect that it will be based on teacher assessment supported by evidence of internal assessment that has already taken place such as mock exams, and that this will be submitted to the exam boards which will then check submissions to ensure consistency and fairness and award grades accordingly.

“The vast majority of teachers endeavour to give accurate assessments, but the decision to suspend school and college performance tables this year will remove any incentive to do otherwise.

“There will clearly need to be an appeal procedure if candidates feel they have been disadvantaged, and inevitably a great many questions remain about how all of this will work.

“We can assure the public that everything possible will be done to support students at this worrying time.”

Norfolk County Council has said it is working to support schools and academies.

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.”

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.”

James Wild, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk said the difficult decision to close schools reflected the seriousness of coronavirus. He tweeted: “Important to look after vulnerable pupils and ensure key worker reflects vital roles. Pupils due to take exams need more clarity. Parents whose children will now be at home need support.”

MORE: Schools close across the county

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