Boris Johnson hints schools will be shut within days – but some could stay open

Boris Johnson has hinted that schools could be shut imminently – as soon as this week – but others may remain open.

The Government is preparing to run “skeleton schools” as it steps up the restrictions on the public in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Headteachers have been asked to work out how many of their children need to be looked after to free up key workers.

It came after increasing numbers of parents decided to keep their children at home own off their own back.

While teaching unions warned the government that staff absences would make closures inevitable.

Asked today about kids staying at home, the PM admitted he “completely” understood parents concerns.

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The PM said: “I understand completely where people are at with that, we’re keeping it under continuous review.”

Mr Johnson also insisted free school meals would be protected for students no longer going.

He said: “As we come to the decision on schools we will have plans ready to go on that, Gavin Williamson education secretary has a plan to make sure that parents with kids who are eligible for free school meals get the compensation or the treatment they need one way or another.”

Downing Street suggested there could be a skeleton service where the kids of key workers such as emergency services workers could still do their job.

A No10 source said: “There has got to be a way of ensuring key workers get to work.”

Sources told the Mirror that it had developed plans to make sure children on free school meals do not go hungry.

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The National Education Union (NEU) said the running of schools will be made “all the more complicated” as they advise teachers and staff who are classed as vulnerable to self-isolate.

Its joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney proposed that teachers and school leaders work on plans to open schools on a limited basis.

This would allow care for pupils whose parents work in emergency services and distribution, as well as ensuring children in food poverty have access to free school meals.

They added: “Of course, this could not be a full opening and it would mean substantial changes from the way schools are normally run – but we believe schools could be important community hubs.”

But the Education Secretary insisted on Tuesday that the current medical and scientific guidance says that schools and other educational settings should remain open.

When should you call NHS 111?

Those experiencing coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough or fever, should self-isolate for 14 days.

You should stay at home if you or or anyone in your household has a high temperature or a new and continuous cough – even if it's mild.

  • Everyone in your household must stay at home for 14 days and keep away from others
  • DO NOT go to your GP or hospital.
  • Go to NHS.UK to check your symptoms and follow the specialist medical advice.
  • Only call 111 if you can't get online, you feel like you can't cope at home, or your symptoms do not get better after the seven days.
  • If you are pregnant you should call 111 if you have any concerns about yourself or unborn baby during self-isolation.
  • Pregnant women are advised to contact their midwife, out-of-hours helplines or a maternity team who will provide information on whether you need to go to hospital.

Gavin Williamson, while announcing the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections, said they will announce closures if the chief medical officer or chief scientific adviser say it is in the best interests of children and teachers.

The leaders say there is an “apparent contradiction” between bans on large gatherings and a refusal to close schools.

It comes after a huge backlash from teachers and parents – some of whom have decided to keep their children at home despite the official advice.

On Monday Boris Johnson told the UK public to avoid public gatherings big and small with all those who can work from home being asked to do so.

Boris Johnson said: “There is an argument about school closures. We think at the moment on balance it’s much better if we can keep schools open, for all sorts of reasons. But I appreciate again that this is something we need to keep under review.”

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Today the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told a select committee that the school closures were “absolutely on the table”.

However he admitted it would create “an enormous problem for the workforce” and specifically for the NHS.

Sir Patrick said that on the lists of measures that would have the biggest impact “school closing was lower down on the list”.

The letter from the Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney referred to guidance that says pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions will be asked to stay at home in the coming days.

Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney said: “We intend to advise all our members in these categories or caring for people in them to stop attending schools and colleges from next Monday at the latest. Some will do so earlier.

“This will make the running of schools all the more complicated.

“Given your failure to release modelling comparing different scenarios of school closures, we are now forced to call on you to close schools, at least for some time and at least in some areas.”

It comes after the NASUWT, which represents teachers and headteachers, said a lack of advice was creating “chaos and confusion” and placing “intolerable pressure” on staff.

Acting general secretary Chris Keates said: “All of the announcements continue to be couched as guidance or advice, which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty.”

Schools are struggling with diminishing staff levels, according to the union, while changes to staff working conditions have the potential to compromise health and safety for staff and pupils.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue,” Ms Keates said.

“The UK Government working with governments and administrations across the UK must now make a definitive decision about the steps being taken to protect the school workforce and the closure of schools.”

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