Schools will close from Monday, except for children of key workers and vulnerable children
Examples of these workers include NHS staff, police and supermarket delivery drivers who need to be able to go to work to support the country’s fight to tackle coronavirus.
Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with Education, Health and Care Plans, a legal document that describes a child’s special educational needs and the support they require, a spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) said.
Children who do not fall into these groups should remain at home with appropriate care.
The spokesman said, where schools are unable to look after these children, local authorities will work with the DfE’s regional teams to ensure an alternative option is available in the same area.
Nurseries, private schools and sixth forms should also follow this guidance and will be provided with financial support for these settings as required.
Where possible, education bosses are encouraging settings to also look after key workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.
A DfE spokesman said the scientific advice shows that these settings are safe for this small number of children to continue attending – but asking others to stay away will help slow the spread.
To lift the pressure on schools themselves and to allow them to focus on supporting those children who need it most, Ofsted will cease all inspections of schools and colleges with immediate effect.
Primary school assessments and secondary exams will not go ahead and performance tables won’t be published. The DfE will work with the sector and Ofqual to ensure children get the qualifications they need.
Education bosses say they recognise that many special schools and residential settings will need to continue to look after their pupils.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Fighting Coronavirus and protecting the vulnerable and our NHS are the Government’s top priorities right now. That’s why we are asking schools, nurseries and colleges to close – except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
‘We are facing increasingly extraordinary circumstances, but by asking schools to support our key workers and vulnerable children I am confident we will help beat this virus.
‘I am deeply grateful for the civic spirit and dedication of everyone working in education, and I will continue to provide my full support throughout this crisis.’
To support children eligible for free school meals, schools will be able to purchase meals or vouchers for supermarkets or local shops.
The government has also confirmed that the total value of vouchers offered to each eligible child per week will exceed the rate it pays to schools for free school meals, recognising that families will not be buying food in bulk and may, therefore, incur higher costs. The final amounts will be confirmed shortly.
Effective immediately, schools will be able to order vouchers directly from supermarkets or shops in their communities to be emailed or printed and posted to families, and they will have their costs covered by the Department for Education. Guidance for schools will be published shortly.
We know that many universities and other higher education institutions are already taking the necessary steps to keep their staff and students safe. We are confident vice-chancellors are making the right decisions and the Department for Education continues to support them in doing so.
To support nurseries at this time, the Chancellor has also decided that they will also now be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year. That means non-local authority providers of childcare will pay no business rates in 2020-21, from April 1.
Local authorities will be fully compensated for the cost of this measure. Guidance for local authorities on the application of the holiday will be published by MHCLG shortly.
Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board: ‘Schools have been struggling to stay open because of staff shortages and today’s decision provides much-needed clarity for headteachers, parents and families.
‘It is important that schools will be kept partially open to provide childcare for parents unable to work at home because they are leading local efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
‘Councils and schools will continue to do all they can to try and ensure vulnerable pupils, including those on free school meals and those with special educational needs and disabilities, can continue to be provided for.’
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