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Coronavirus Kent: Schools could close for a month


County education chiefs say they are “ramping up” contingency plans to deal with school closures and disruption to the exam timetable caused by the coronavirus.

The crisis has led to speculation that GCSE and A-Level exams may be delayed if the spread of the infection continues, with the possibility of a spike in numbers coinciding with the exam period.

Education chiefs say they are "ramping up" contingency plans
Education chiefs say they are "ramping up" contingency plans

A number of schools have confirmed that varying numbers of pupils and staff have been or are self-isolating.

However, not all have been diagnosed with the virus and have been encouraged to stay away as a precautionary measure.

Some were on school trips, with several on skiing excursions to north Italy.

Schools from across the country are preparing for a month long Easter break, after being put on a lert by officials last night.

It is expected to come into effect nationwide on March 20 - weeks before the planned Easter break.

Teachers have been asked to prepare 'home-learning packs' by Friday and are compiling lists of children who have access to the internet at home so they can carry on with their studies at home.

Matt Dunkley, KCC director of children’s services, told county councillors that a range of different plans were in place - including several that had been drawn up to deal with a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “As you would expect, we are ramping up our preparations. We have business continuity plans in place; and we have three plans drawn up three times for Brexit. We have a pretty clear statement to schools about how they should deal with and manage closures.”

Other concerns around the welfare of vulnerable ‘looked after’ children placed in Kent by other authorities had also been considered, he said, adding: “None of us know how this will play out but we have to keep an eye on vulnerable children.”

Meanwhile, headteachers say questions remained over contingency plans to deal with the possibility of disruption to exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels.

Alan Brookes, chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers and principal of Fulston Manor School, said any issues were being dealt with by exam regulator Ofqual on behalf of individual exam boards.

He said: “Whatever response is needed will be dealt with by Ofqual on a national level, which is fairer. If there are any special considerations such as a school being shut down, they will deal with it.

"In terms of where we are today, I am reasonably confident that we have effective plans in place.”

But other headteachers said it was not clear what would happen if schools were unable to deliver exams.

Paul Luxmoore, principal of the Coastal Academies Trust, said: “Currently I don’t know how we will cope. DFE tells us to have contingency plans for everything - but I don’t understand how we will deliver exams.”

Ofqual said: 'We recognise that students, parents, schools and colleges will be concerned about the possible impact of coronavirus on the 2020 summer exam series. Our advice at this time is to continue to prepare for exams and other assessments as normal.”

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

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