When will students return to school?

In an interview with the BBC this week, UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that schools would be given two weeks’ notice before being told they should reopen to all students, adding that he ‘hoped’ schools would be able to welcome children back before Easter.

Schools in England have been closed to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils since we entered yet another period of strict lockdown at the beginning of January. Compared to the first lockdown in March 2020 a lot more children are attending school in, as the criteria to qualify as a child of a "critical worker", or "vulnerable" child been significantly extended.

Most boarding schools are still accommodating significant numbers of international students, who had either stayed over Christmas or just arrived back  in January when the new lockdown was announced. Students enjoy the company and camaraderie of their boarding bubbles, but classes are still taken remotely from the boarding houses, with reduced access to some parts of the schools and extra-curricular activities. 

So when can we realistically expect schools to open again? It’s the question every parent, teacher and child wants to know the answer to, but messages from our beleaguered and exhausted politicians have been constantly changing as they respond to the latest figures about the spread of the virus and pressures on our health system. A return after the February half-term break has been mooted, but the private schools we have been speaking to seem resigned to a return after Easter at the earliest.  This ‘wait and see’ attitude is not helpful to families living overseas who want to know when to book flights and how to negotiate the complicated quarantine and testing requirements but, thankfully, we are seeing that schools are being extremely pro-active in keeping parents informed and making sure that children are well-supported while studying remotely. 

What about the summer exams?

A-Level, GCSE and vocational exams have all been cancelled this year, but schools and students are still waiting to hear what will replace them. The government is currently conducting a consultation with headteachers, teachers and students to decide on the best way to assess students and award grades in 2021. It is likely that grades will be decided by the teachers who know their students best.

At the time of writing, the IB Diploma exams as well as IGCSEs are going ahead this summer, but it would not be a huge surprise if this were to change in the name of fairness.

Advice to all students in exam years is to continue to study hard and know that your efforts won’t be wasted.

See here for the latest government advice. 

BBC Launches TV Learning Programmes

Last week the BBC added to its popular range of online learning resources, BBC Bitesize, by introducing three hours of educational programmes on television, aimed at primary school children every weekday, plus two hours every day for older students.

Also, to ensure that as many children as possible can access the BBC’s online resources, data charges are being waived for people using the site from the end of January for the period of lockdown. You can find further information here.