SCHOOLS across the UK will close from Friday in response to the coronavirus crisis, it has been announced tonight.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the news in a speech to the House of Commons, and revealed that upcoming exams will be cancelled.

Scroll down for more on exams

Schools will remain open for a minority of children, however, including those whose parents are key workers - even through the Easter holiday.

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Mr Williamson said: "The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated.

"The public health benefits of schools remaining open as normal are shifting.

"It's also clear that schools are finding it more difficult to continue as normal as illness and self-isolation impacts on staffing levels and pupil attendance.

"After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.

"This will be for all children except those of key workers and where children are most vulnerable.

"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 just go towards helping us slow the spread of this virus."

No time frame for the closures have been suggested but the Prime Minister said it would be kept at an 'absolute minimum'.

Parents have been urged not to leave children with their grandparents, as the elderly are among those most vulnerable to Covid-19.

What counts as a key worker?

Mr Williamson said this includes NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. More details will be set out by the government tomorrow about who qualifies as a key worker.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that come Monday, it is 'important' that these pupils and vulnerable pupils do turn up to school even though others will not

What is a vulnerable pupil?

He said this includes those who have a social worker, and those with EHCPs (education and health care plans for children with special needs)

Early years providers such as nurseries, further education colleges and sixth forms will also be asked to shut, Mr Williamson said.

He advised independent schools including boarding schools to also shut.

Mr Williamson added: "We will give schools the flexibility to provide meals or vouchers to children who are eligible for free school meals.

"Some schools are already doing this and we will make sure those costs are reimbursed.

"As soon as possible, we will put in place a national voucher system for every child who is eligible for free school meals."

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He said he knows the changes 'will not be easy', adding: "I'm asking nurseries, schools and colleges to be at the forefront of our national response to this crisis.

"Given the unprecedented asks we are making of all of those working in educational settings at this time, I recognise we are asking so much of them.

"We will be asking them to be able to provide the settings to be open for those children of key workers and those vulnerable children during Easter holidays as well."


Mr Williamson said: "We will not go ahead with assessments or exams and we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year.

"We will work with the sector and Ofqal to ensure children get the qualifications that they need."

He did not specify which exams, but it has since been clarified that SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels are included.

What about universities?

No guidance was given specifically but the education secretary said he trusts that university leaders are taking the correct decisions for their institutions to protect students and staff.

In a press conference this evening, Boris Johnson reiterated the measures.

The Prime Minister said closing schools at an earlier stage would have been of 'limited value' but that the scientific advice has now changed as the spread of the virus progresses.

He said: "We are asking nurseries and private schools to do the same and we are providing financial support where it's needed.

"Exams will not take place as planned in May and June, though we will make sure that pupils get the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career."

What about special schools?

There's been some confusion about special schools, and whether or not they will close.

The government says schools should stay open for vulnerable pupils including those on an EHCP (an education and health care plan for children with special needs).

Given that most pupils in special schools have an EHCP, it's unclear what that means for them.

With many staff members likely to have their own children, whose schools will be shut, they may have to stay at home to look after them.

Schools short of staff will likely have to close, so how will special schools stay open for those who need them? It's a confusing picture and one that the government will need to clarify in the coming hours and days. 

More details about the measures announced tonight are expected to be announced in due course.