Coronavirus: will UK schools have to close again?

Thousands of teachers are self-isolating - but the government is determined not to order new closures

primary school
(Image credit: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images)

Outbreaks of Covid-19 have forced the total or partial closure of at least 365 schools in England and Wales, just a fortnight after pupils returned to class following lockdown and the summer holidays.

The “alarming figure” suggests that “more schools may have to close as winter approaches”, says The Mirror.

And many others are facing disruption and partial closure. Research suggests that “up to 25,000 teachers in England may already have been forced out of the classroom and into self-isolation at home amid a national shortage of Covid tests”, The Guardian reports.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that he was “regularly hearing reports of groups of pupils and staff having to self-isolate in response to positive cases”.

“This will feel I think like lockdown by default,” he added.

With large numbers of teachers out of action for 14 days at a time, many schools will have no choice but to send children home.

However, the government has insisted there will be no blanket closure of schools like that in March, when Covid-19 was spreading rapidly across the country.

In early August, Professor Graham Medley of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that other activities might have to be put on hold to allow education to continue.

“Most people think that opening schools is a priority for the health and well-being of children and that when we do that we are going to reconnect lots of households,” he told the BBC. “And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.”

Medley added that ministers might have to decide whether “we think pubs are more important than schools”.

According to the Department of Education, 99.9% of schools in England and Wales are open.

“But their figures show 8% of state-funded schools were partially closed,” says Sky News. “And pupil attendance rates have fallen to 88%, down from 95.3% last year.”

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.