Teenagers could be forced to sit exams during the summer holidays if coronavirus temporarily shuts schools, education sources warned last night.
But their grades could be inflated to compensate for missed lesson time, according to one teacher trying to answer parents’ creeping concerns over the fate of their children’s learning.
As the health crisis escalates, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty forecast a worst-case scenario in which schools would be closed for ‘probably more than two months’.
Six schools have already shut because of links to confirmed infection patients, and more than a dozen have sent pupils home to allow for deep cleaning of classrooms.
Parents are worried about the knock-on effect of closures, with one saying she was ‘scared’ her child will ‘screw up his GCSE’s if the schools are closed’.
Exams regulator Ofqual have urged institutions to draw up contingency plans to prepare for such closures, but have not yet advised on specific measures.
Calvin Robinson, a teacher at Watford Grammar, believes exams could be pushed back and teachers and pupils would likely have to come in during the summer holidays to sit papers and invigilate.
In the event of schools shutting, he told MailOnline: ‘I think we will have to postpone exams.
Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Devon has closed after a pupil and one of their relatives were diagnosed with the virus
Wimbledon College has been shut after one of its staff members caught the coronavirus on a trip to Italy
SCHOOLS COULD CLOSE ‘FOR MONTHS’ TO CONTAIN THE CORONAVIRUS
Emergency plans are being drawn up by health officials to contain the coronavirus as the first Briton died today and could see schools closed for at least two months and major sporting events, gigs and music festivals cancelled.
The most extreme measure could be to mirror the decision to shut Japan’s entire school system, which will close from Monday for a month until April. A UK shutdown would see millions of parents, including key workers such as surgeons, nurses and paramedics, forced to stay at home to care for their children.
Prof Whitty admitted it is ‘just a matter of time’ until coronavirus spreads more widely and quicker through the UK – and the fightback could include ‘reducing mass gatherings and school closures’, with Premier League and FA Cup matches either under threat or played behind closed doors.
Chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said the decisions would not be taken lightly because ‘anything we do we’re going to have to do for quite a long time – probably more than two months.’
Boris Johnson’s government is expected to release a new phase of its plan to cope with coronavirus later this week.
‘We can’t purely base it on previous coursework, because students weren’t warned in advance.
‘You’d have to pay teachers, or external invigilators, to come in for GCSEs and A-Levels.’
Mr Robinson suggested that annual internal exams for the younger age groups would be scrapped entirely.
Many parents fear closures would almost certainly jeopardise their sons and daughters’ grades in comparison to institutions which remained open.
Mr Robinson predicted that, if there were a slump in grades owing to missed lessons in affected schools, these could be inflated.
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran MP also said exam boards should take into account illnesses.
She told MailOnline: ‘Exam season is an extremely stressful time for pupils and it is crucial that schools take a compassionate approach.
‘This is particularly the case for pupils who miss lessons due to illness. Exam boards must have plans for how they can take into account individual circumstances.’
Mr Robinson pointed out that most GCSE and A-Level syllabuses would have already been covered, and doubted that the range of exam questions would be reduced.
Online learning tools have been mooted as potential options in the event of school closures.
An article in the Times Educational Supplement said Google Classroom could be used to set work for pupils to do at home and to monitor which of them were doing it.
And even YouTube could be used as a teaching tool, with teachers sending links to relevant videos or even creating their own, then setting questions about the material.
But Mr Robinson, a computer science teacher, poured cold water on these proposals and said most schools ‘lacked the infrastructure’ to execute this.
Both GCSE and A-Levels results day fall in the middle of August, which would likely be pushed back if exams are postponed.
This would pose problems for universities, who typically confirm offers on results day about a month before term begins.
It is unclear what would happen for school leavers in this situation, but Mr Robinson said ‘universities would have to be flexible’.
The government is urging schools to stay open unless they’re told otherwise by local health authorities.
But officials have admitted that they could be closed en masse as part of drastic measures to keep people safe if a full-scale outbreak takes hold in the UK. Then schools will have to find ways to educate children and allow them to sit their exams in the summer.
Schools have been urged by exams regulator Ofqual to prepare contingency plans in case their terms or exams are disrupted.
This could involve setting up alternative venues for exams in the summer.
St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, where a member of staff tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. It is closed for deep cleaning until Wednesday
The chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, has not ruled out closing schools in the event of a major outbreak but said it would not be taken lightly.
‘Everybody knows that the kinds of things you consider are reducing mass gatherings, school closures which may or may not be appropriate for this type of virus,’ he said. ‘We don’t know yet, we need to find that out.’
‘There are several things – to be clear, we’re not saying we will do them, we have to look at them and say, ‘How likely are they to work and what’s our evidence base here? What’s the social cost of this?’
‘Because one of the things that’s clear with this virus, much more so than with the flu, is anything we do we’re going to have to do for quite a long time – probably more than two months.’
Public Health England (PHE) has advised schools to stay open, with medical director Paul Cosford saying: ‘Schools have to face difficult decisions, given the complexity of issues that they are facing.
‘What I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.’
Headteachers’ unions have kept a calm front so far and said they will be guided by the government’s advice.
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School & College Leaders, told the BBC: ‘We would urge students to focus on studying for their exams and not to worry about what may or may not happen.’
And the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, Paul Whiteman, said: ‘Our best advice to school leaders is to encourage them to stay on top of the continually updated advice from the government, share it with pupils and their families and act accordingly.’
Despite the government’s advice, some schools have closed already in the face of coronavirus panic.
Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Brixham, Devon, has closed after one of its pupils and a relative were diagnosed with the virus after visiting Italy.
The headteacher there said the schoool was closed until tomorrow, March 3, because of a ‘potential case of COVID-19 at Churston’, ITV news reported.
Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Torbay confirmed a student tested positive for COVID-19, while the second case in Devon is a member of the same family. No other details are known
The two patients are the first to be diagnosed in Devon, and the pupil is believed to be the first British child to have caught the virus.
They have been taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle for specialist treatment.
Four more schools in Devon have closed as a precaution: Collaton St Mary in Paignton; Galmpton Primary School, Brixham; Brixham Church of England Primary School, and Berry Pomeroy Primary School, Totnes.
Wimbledon College, in south-west London, has closed after a member of staff caught the coronavirus while on a trip to northern Italy.
In a letter to parents the headmaster wrote: ‘The staff member was last in school on the morning of 25th February and has not had contact with pupils since the beginning of this half term.
‘However, as some staff members are now classed as close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 they are required to self-isolate as a precautionary measure for 14 days. Unfortunately, this means we will have to temporarily close the school due to low staffing numbers.’
Willow Bank Junior School and Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, a suburb of Reading, have both closed after a staff member at the infant school was diagnosed with coronavirus.
A statement said it would be shut until ‘further notice’ – this could bRide for three days for a deep clean to take place, Berkshire Live reported.
St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, has closed after a member of staff there was confirmed to have the virus after a trip to Italy.
After taking necessary precautions the school no longer had enough staff to remain open, according to Gloucestershire Live, and it will now be deep cleaned.
The Ridgeway School in Farnham, Surrey, which teaches children with severe learning difficulties, has closed for deep cleaning.
Three cases have been diagnosed in Surrey already and a Ridgeway member of staff had been in contact with a confirmed patient.
In a letter to parents the headteacher said: ‘Recognising the nature of our children and that many of them may have a compromised immune system, we have decided to take the additional precaution of closing for a deep clean on Tuesday 3 March 2020.’
The school said it would reopen on Wednesday, March 4.
Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough remains closed after it shut last week because 36 pupils had been on a skiing trip to virus-hit northern Italy.
Peartree Spring Primary School in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, has confirmed it has a case in a parent but it has remained open despite this.