What will education in England look like for pupils in 2021?

5 January 2021, 15:58

Schools will be closed to most pupils until at least the February half term
Schools will be closed to most pupils until at least the February half term. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Education in England has been turned on its head for 2021 after Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown.

In his Monday evening lockdown address, the prime minister announced the biggest changes to schooling since the first UK-wide shut down nearly 10 months ago.

With coronavirus cases rising daily, Mr Johnson said the government now has to "do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease" meaning schools, colleges and universities must move to remote learning.

There are some exceptions, such as for vulnerable children or for those of keyworkers, however from Tuesday most institutions will shut their doors to pupils and students until at least the February half-term.

But the PM did say he will continue to provide free school meals to those entitled to them and that more devices will be distributed to support remote education.

So what is happening to nurseries in 2021? When will primary and secondary schools reopen? Will exams still go ahead? And what about colleges?

Watch: Govt urged to cancel BTec exams amid claims students have been 'forgotten'

Watch: James O'Brien challenges shadow chancellor on party's back to school policy

Nurseries

During his televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson said early years settings such as nurseries and childminders can remain open during the national lockdown and childcare bubbles can stay in place.

Therefore, with this in mind, it is likely that nurseries will continue to operate normally throughout 2021 unless there are Covid outbreaks at individual centres.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said in a statement that "there is no evidence that the new variant" disproportionately affects young children.

The statement added that nurseries will be funded as usual, while those that do see a drop in income can utilise the furlough scheme.

Parents on Covid support schemes will remain eligible for childcare support "even if their income levels fall below the minimum requirement".

Primary schools

All primary schools will move to remote learning throughout England's national lockdown, except for the children of keyworkers or vulnerable children.

This will remain in place until at least the February half-term at which point the government will review the national situation before allowing schools to reopen.

A DfE statement said primary school settings had a larger relative impact on transmission rate than early years provision which is why they must close.

Even primary schools that reopened on Monday 4 January are being ordered to close.

SATs due to be taken in May appear to have been unaffected by the restrictions and, as it stands, are going ahead.

It is unclear whether 11-plus tests will be going ahead during 2021 so people should check with their local authority for updates.

Secondary schools

All secondary schools will move to remote learning throughout England's national lockdown, except for the children of keyworkers or vulnerable children.

This will remain in place until at least the February half-term at which point the government will review the national situation before allowing schools to reopen.

A-Levels and GCSEs will be cancelled this year but vocational exams, for example for BTec students, will still go ahead.

The prime minister said moving to remote learning means it will not be "possible or fair" for exams to go ahead as normal and therefore Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will work with regulator Ofqual to put in place "alternative arrangements".

Secondary pupils were previously told they would have staggered returns to classrooms, with those taking exams expecting to return on 11 January and other year groups on 18 January. However, this is no longer the case.

Colleges

All colleges will move to remote learning throughout England's national lockdown, except for the children of keyworkers or vulnerable children.

College students had been told they would have staggered returns to classrooms, with those taking exams expecting to return on 11 January and others on 18 January. However, this is no longer the case.

Instead, the government has said students taking exams "should attend as scheduled" this month, while the awarding body Pearson has said BTecs will go ahead.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) and the National Union of Students (NUS) are both calling for the exams to be scrapped as they say it is unsafe to make students go into schools and colleges to do tests.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has said it feels "pretty impossible" to run the exams as it will "increase the unfairness" on students who cannot attend.

Universities

The latest guidance on the return to universities splits students into two groups.

Those who are on courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, education or social work will be returning to campus for the spring term and be tested twice or self-isolate for 10 days.

All other students are being told to remain where they are and will start their term online, with distance learning in place "until at least Mid-February".

These students will not be allowed to return to campus and will be expected to study from their current residence.

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