Michael Gove dealt another blow to parents today as he suggested schools could remain closed after the February half-term.
In a stark warning this morning, the former education secretary hinted schools may open even later than expected if the government’s vaccination drive lags behind.
As England is placed in the grip of another lockdown, Mr Gove warned that restrictions will only start to be lifted gradually in March – forcing parents and teachers to brace for yet more weeks of home learning.
The Cabinet Minister said that while education was the ‘number one priority’, the government, ‘must make progress with vaccination.’
Last night Boris Johnson ‘bowed to the inevitable’ and shut all schools until February 22.
The eleventh hour u-turn – which came on the day many reopened after Christmas – has infuriated school leaders and unions who attacked the Government’s policy as ‘madness’.
Mr Gove also suggested that end-of-year exams for pupils will be abolished in favour of alternative styles of assessment following the new lockdown.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether A-levels and GCSEs in England are cancelled, the former education secretary said: ‘Yes.’
He added: ‘My own daughter is due to sit A-levels this year, my son due to sit GCSEs – I know how hard students across the country between Years 11 and 13 have been working.
‘We will be putting in place alternative arrangements in order to make sure that the hard work that students have put in to acquire knowledge and develop their skills is appropriately assessed, recognised and awarded.’
A youngster begins the new school term of 2021 at home by watching an online introduction from his teacher
Year 9 student Isla Stanton, 14, begins her home learning in Ashford, Kent
As England is placed in the grip of another lockdown and months more coronavirus chaos:
- Rishi Sunak today announced another £4.6billion of bailouts for lockdown-stricken businesses as economists warned of the ‘colossal’ hit from the surging pandemic;
- Arrivals at UK borders are set to have to show they have tested negative for Covid in the last 72 hours in another major U-turn from government;
- The PM is set to hold a press conference with medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance at 5pm;
- Streets and city centres were quiet as Britons digested the new restrictions being placed on their lives;
- Hundreds of medical professionals have called for hospital staff to be given higher grade personal protective equipment (PPE) amid growing concern over airborne transmission of coronavirus;
- The scale of the problem was underlined as the latest grim daily tally was released, with 58,784 new cases – a 42 per cent rise on last Monday.
Mr Gove said the full details are being worked out between Ofqual and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
He added: ‘One of the things about assessment is that it necessarily involves those students doing particular tasks which teachers will assess.
‘Whether or not they are moderated in a particular fashion by particular awarding bodies or others is a delicate process.’
He also said the Prime Minister, who had urged that pupils carry on attending schools just hours before announcing on Monday night that they would shut, had reluctantly decided to act when confronted with a change in coronavirus alert level.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom met and discussed the situation yesterday and their recommendation was that the country had to move to Level 5, the highest level available of alert that meant there was an imminent danger to the NHS of being overwhelmed unless action was taken.
‘And so in the circumstances we felt that the only thing we could do was to close those primary schools that were open.
‘Of course, it was with the heaviest of hearts because education is such an important part of any young person’s life and we want to keep schools open as much as possible, but the message from the chief medical officers yesterday was clear and therefore, with a heavy heart but with clear evidence, we had to act.’
Mr Gove said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will address a recalled House of Commons on Wednesday to update MPs on how pupils will be assessed at the end of the year, following further disruption to their learning.
He told Sky News: ‘The Education Secretary has been talking to the exams regulator Ofqual in order that we can find a way of recognising the immense hard work that students across the country have put in this year.
‘Obviously we can’t have A-levels, GCSEs or B-techs in the way that we have had them in the past but there are ways of ensuring that we can assess the work that students have done, give them a fair recognition of that and help them onto the next stage of their education.
‘The Education Secretary will be saying more about that but it is critically important that parents and students recognise that their work will be recognised at the end of this year – it is not the case that anyone would, or anyone would want to, down tools as it were.
‘It is critically important that children maintain their learning and we will be supporting them to do so by making it easier for more and more students to access remote learning.’
Isla Stanton gets set for another long day in front of the computer as she returns to home learning in Kent
Students have been left in tears amid more confusion over how Year 11 and Year 13 children will be assessed this year – including whether exams will definitely be stopped – with Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman telling ministers they must make up their minds immediately.
One option on the table reportedly involved keeping GCSE and A-Level exams for only ‘core subjects’ such as maths and English with all other exams marked based on coursework, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is working with Ofqual, who considered having multiple exam papers for students, with a third on one day, a third the next and the final third after that. Under the plan they would all sit different exams to prevent cheating, but all marked in same way to the same standards.
But Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, claims schools minister Nick Gibb called her last night and admitted there would be no GCSE or A-level exams at all for the second year running.
And amid the confusion Michael Gove later confirmed the exams would not happen before admitting schools could shut for longer if the vaccine rollout stalls.
Michael Gove later confirmed the exams would not happen before admitting schools could shut for longer if the vaccine rollout stalls
Boris Johnson said in his TV address to the nation: ‘Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote provision from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.’
He hoped schools could begin to reopen after February half-term. Keeping schools open for children of key workers and those in vulnerable situations mirrors previous lockdowns.
Nurseries will also remain open and free meals will continue to be distributed.
As exams are not considered viable, the Department for Education will consult on how children can receive fair grades without the introduction of another disastrous algorithm.
Headteachers voiced despair at the wasted effort of preparing for just a single day of classroom learning. Katharine Birbalsingh, of Michaela Community School in Wembley, north London, said the sudden chopping and changing was ‘madness’.
She stressed: ‘I had my staff training today on administration of the Covid tests.
‘We changed our training plans last week to follow new Government guidance. Now suddenly we are delivering online learning tomorrow? This is madness.’
David Shakeshaft, of Firs Primary School in Birmingham, said he needed to undo ‘all the work I had to yesterday and today’ ahead of reopening. He wrote online: ‘Absolutely beyond comprehension I have been put in this position.’ The Government’s bid to get primary children back to school has been in tatters since Sunday night when it became clear that hundreds of headteachers were unable or unwilling to reopen.
Pressure had been growing since the publication last week of documents that showed Government scientific advisers warned before Christmas that schools would need to shut to reduce the R rate of Covid infection.
Last night Mr Johnson admitted that schools could be acting as ‘vectors for transmission’ – hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced similar closures for Scotland.
He said: ‘We have been doing everything in our power to keep schools open because we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances.’
Naomi Carpenter, a 20-year-old sports rehab student at Hull University, takes a swab for a lateral flow Covid-19 test at the campus sports facilities as students return to the university. She must now go home
Ministers had already faced union fury over the Government’s chaotic plans for the proposed reopening of schools in January
University students are also facing another extended spell of learning in their bedrooms rather than in lecture halls, with demands for tuition fee and accommodation refunds likely to soar as a result. With certain exceptions for courses such as medicine, undergraduates had already been told to stay away until January 25 ‘at the earliest’, but the campus ban will now also extend into next month.
The cancellation of the summer’s school exams will bring England into line with Wales and Scotland, which both decided to give up on the idea well before the current crisis.
Mr Johnson said it was ‘not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal’.
The Mail understands Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will now focus his attentions on ensuring schools provide quality online lessons as well as the rollout of the free laptop scheme.
Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said the Government had been left with ‘no other option’ but to axe exams.
However, Labour’s schools spokesman, Wes Streeting, said the cancellation will ’cause additional anxiety for pupils and teachers’ as the Government has no ‘Plan B’ in place.
Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker told the Mail it was ‘essential’ that all school staff were vaccinated during the closure, and that in-school testing plans were strengthened.
In a rare positive, around 130,000 students expecting to take vocational exams this month will still be able to sit the papers.
Just last week, Mr Williamson told the Commons that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of primaries would be opening their doors on Monday. He said to MPs: ‘Children need to be in school, which is why we will always do everything we can to resist knee-jerk reactions to close schools or colleges.’
But the National Education Union had predicted a ‘snowball effect’ of teacher rebellion and said yesterday that staff at 6,000 primaries – around 35 per cent – had refused to work. Former Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt was one of the first MPs to break with the pro-schools consensus yesterday, declaring they needed to shut ‘right away’.
Miss Sturgeon ordered Scottish schools to stay shut until at least the start of February.
The Welsh government also said it would move to online learning until at least January 18.
Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said: ‘This is a crisis point for the nation and a great deal of what got us here should not simply be blamed on new strains of the virus.’
She insisted: ‘The Government has had eight months to prepare for a renewed period of remote learning and for alternatives to exam assessment at GCSE and A-level. But it has not used that time wisely or well.’