SECONDAY school children might not fully return to the classroom until January next year and could face further exam delays as the coronavirus lockdown continues.
While most primary school pupils began a phased return to school last week, secondary school students may not be able to sit their GCSE and A-level exams until 2021.
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Exam regulator Ofqual has started making contingency plans to push 2021's exams from May to as late as July, and plans for continuing this summer's emergency marking system, the Sunday Times reports.
Teaching unions confirmed that Government guidance to secondary schools on social distancing will mean thousands of pupils could return part-time.
An Ofqual spokeswoman told the PA news agency that the regulator acknowledged students, parents and teachers have safety concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in schools.
"Our overriding aim is to ensure exams and assessments are as fair as possible and we are working closely with the Department for Education, exam boards and groups representing teachers, schools and colleges, to carefully consider a range of possible measures," said the Ofqual spokeswoman.
"We will provide further information in the coming weeks."
A spokesman for The Department for Education added: “We expect exams to take place next year and are working with Ofqual and the exam boards.”
It comes as more schools shelve plans to reopen on Monday after new data suggested coronavirus could still be spreading in the North West of England.
Health officials at Blackburn and Darwen Council, which runs 85 schools in Lancashire, emailed local schools on Friday evening advising them not to reopen on Monday morning.
The same advice has been given by public health officials in Tameside, Greater Manchester, to delay reopening for pupils other than vulnerable children and those of key workers, to June 22.
Some experts warned the reproduction 'R' rate was still too high to ease lockdown measures.
Last week, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said the current R rate across the UK is between 0.7-0.9.
But he has also said that children are at very low risk of being affected by coronavirus.
If the R rate creeps above one, the Government could potentially bring back some lockdown restrictions.
The Government announced children in reception, and Years 1 and 6 were to return to school from June 1 on a full-time basis.
Other years will follow later in a phased process which has been described as a "protective measure" by officials.
Downing Street has said that parents who do not want their children to resume school for now will not be fined for the decision.
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