The Prime Minister will set out the ‘next steps’ in the Government’s Covid-19 response with an address to the nation tonight at 8pm, with Parliament being recalled on Wednesday.
MailOnline understands England is heading for a new set of blanket restrictions similar to those imposed during the first lockdown last spring.
Both primary and secondary schools will likely close under the new rules – which are set to last until the most-vulnerable Britons are vaccinated – prompting concerns about this summer’s exams.
In the first national lockdown, exams were cancelled forcing GCSEs and A-Level grades to be determined by teacher assessments.
Now, headteachers are urging the Government to call off the tests again because ‘wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations.’
Boris Johnson is widely expected to announce that schools across England will remain closed in the coming weeks as part of a new national lockdown
Head teachers are calling on the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams
Furious students and parents are also claiming it is simply ‘not fair’ to make teenagers sit exams when in-person contact hours are non-existent.
Mr Johnson yesterday refused to rule out cancelling exams.
When probed on the topic by the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve got to be realistic about the pace at which this new variant has spread.
‘We’ve got to be realistic about the impact it’s having on our NHS and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’
This week, a spokesperson from the WorthLess? campaign group – a collection of 2,000 head teachers in 80 local authorities – told The Sunday Times: ‘Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations.
Furious Britons took to Twitter to call on the Government to call off exams for this summer due to a lack of contact time
But not everyone agreed that cancelling exams was the best way forward, with Science teacher Dr Ella Swamp writing: ‘Cancelling exams is pretty much the same as cancelling all learning for year 11 and 13’
‘Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-levels.’
And today, it was revealed that England is set to is facing blanket lockdown restrictions involving the mass-closure of schools.
As it stands, most primaries in England are open for in-person teaching, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with plans to test every student weekly.
Furious Britons took to Twitter to call on the Government to call off exams for this summer due to a lack of contact time.
Last year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced calls to resign after thousands of A-Level students missed out on university places due to a highly-criticised algorithm.
The area in red is where the Government ordered all schools to shut. The areas in pink are where headteachers have shut down anyway
Naomi Carpenter, a 20-year-old sports rehab student at Hull University, takes a swab for a lateral flow Covid-19 test at the campus sports facilities as students return to the university
Schoolchildren make their way to primary school in Leeds (left) and Cheshire (right) – but millions of children are now at home for at least a fortnight
In the end, students were handed their predicted grades for their final mark.
Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy wrote: ‘If schools are being closed for face to face learning across England it is virtually impossible to see how GCSE and A level exams can go ahead this year.’
Becca Jiggens added: ‘Young people’s mental health would be served by swift confirmation that exams will not be taking place – teacher assigned grades would help keep remote learning motivation up.’
Samantha Booth asked: ‘What about exams? Will there be extra measures to help students?
‘Especially if schools are going to be closed until possibly mid-Feb as is being reported.’
Another outraged Briton added: ‘If schools get closed again they better cancel the exams because that’s not fair.’
Nickwa wrote: ‘It would be an atrocious abdication of duty to make these years take exams.
‘It is criminal, the handling of this whole pandemic response.’
But not everyone agreed that cancelling exams was the best way forward, with Science teacher Dr Ella Swamp writing: ‘Cancelling exams is pretty much the same as cancelling all learning for year 11 and 13.
‘This was the worst decision made in March.
‘Now we have loads of children who have gone on to the next stage in their education without properly learning the exam content.’
The Government has been under growing pressure to keep a majority of pupils out of the classroom since it announced last week that primary schools in numerous hotspot areas would be told to stay closed at the start of January.
Children enter Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford, Cheshire, as schools across England return after the Christmas break – but unions are demanding that all schools are closed immediately
Euan Stanton, a year 7 pupil at a secondary school in Ashford, Kent, studies at home as many schools switch to online learning from today for at least a fortnight
Ministers also pushed back the start of term for the bulk of secondary school pupils by a week, meaning they were set to return on January 18 rather than January 11 – when only Years 11 and 13 preparing for exams were due to go back.
Mr Johnson said this morning that the argument for keeping schools open was ‘powerful’.
The Prime Minister has also insisted that schools are safe and that closing primaries would be a ‘last resort’.
But education unions have warned that bringing all pupils back to school could fuel the pandemic and put teachers at ‘serious risk’ of falling ill.
A joint statement from unions representing school staff and head teachers blasted the Government’s ‘chaotic’ handling of the reopening of schools and said it had caused confusion for parents and staff.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said before the Prime Minister’s address to the nation that any lockdown had to include the closure of schools.
He tweeted: ‘We must introduce a national lockdown now. Tragically, that must mean school closures.
‘We need a simple contract between the British people: the country goes into lockdown, the Government delivers the vaccine. Stay at home, protect the NHS, vaccinate Britain.’
Mr Johnson’s address to the nation came hours after Nicola Sturgeon announced that schools in Scotland would remain closed for all of January as part of a new lockdown north of the border.
Ms Sturgeon said she hoped schools in Scotland would be able to return on February 1.
Ministers have faced union fury over the Government’s chaotic plans for the reopening of schools in January
The delayed reopening of classrooms is likely to wreak havoc with the school year and raises questions about whether exams will go ahead as currently envisaged.
The Government has previously been adamant that exams will be sat in 2021 after the closure of schools meant they had to be scrapped last year.
Ministers said in October that they were working with exam regulator Ofqual to put plans in place for tests to go ahead.
They said exams would be pushed back by three weeks, starting after the May bank holiday half term and finishing on July 2.
A lengthy closure of schools in the coming weeks will inevitably trigger calls for a rethink over the exams timetable.