The UK government has closed England’s schools with “the heaviest of hearts”, Michael Gove said, as he confirmed this year’s GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled
On the closures of England’s schools, Mr Gove has said that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would make a statement about alternative assessments on Wednesday.
Ministers want to ensure grades are as “fair as possible”, Mr Gove said.
He said the decision was made after the UK’s chief medical officers recommended a move to COVID threat level five.
This comes after Most of England’s primary schools had been reopened on Monday – amid rows over whether pupils should be returning with the current COVID restrictions, before then being closed again after just one day.
One head teacher, Neil Strowger from Bohunt School in Hampshire, said he was “bitterly disappointed and quite upset” for students who have suffered so much disruption this year and “fearful” about what it would mean for them.
And, despite the government saying vocational exams such as Btec should go ahead, with some scheduled for this week, the Association of School and College Leaders said that seemed “pretty impossible”.
The step to close schools was taken “very, very reluctantly” because the children who suffer most are those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have less access to online learning, Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
On Sunday Boris Johnson said there was “no doubt in my mind that schools are safe” and urged parents to send their children to primary schools if they were open.
But when he announced the latest lockdown on Monday the prime minister said “schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households”.
Mr Gove said the “clear advice” to move to the highest level of Covid alert – level five – came only on Monday, after some primary schools had already returned from the Christmas break.
This comes after Michael Gove has warned that there are “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as England battles to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, which is being driven by a new COVID variant that has been judged to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the previous one.
Mr Gove – whose daughter is in her A-level year and whose son is studying GCSEs – said he shared the concerns of parents and head teachers about the impact of cancelling exams.
He said the Department for Education was in talks with Ofqual to find the “the best and most effective way” to assess students, after widespread protests over grades awarded by algorithm last summer.
“What we want to make sure is that the method of assessment is as fair as possible and takes into account the effect that disruption has had,” Mr Gove said.