23 July 2009

'Virtual schools' swine flu plan

I found an article on the BBC News about a plan to set up 'Virtual Schools' in case all schools have to close due to swine flu.

Apparently officials in England have considered extending the school summer holidays to try to limit the spread of the virus before a vaccine is widely available. Head teachers want schools to stay open but say they will do all they can to continue lessons if they do close but England's Schools Secretary Ed Balls has said the government will monitor the situation closely over the holidays and review the evidence in late August.

Scientists at Imperial College London have asked the government to consider closing schools this autumn to curb the spread of swine flu cases, while outlining the costs in terms of disruption and impact on business and essential services. England's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said yesterday that "it would take a lot for us to move in that direction; it would be extremely disruptive to society".

Becta has confirmed contingency plans are in place. Its officials have been liaising with the government and are working on revising government guidance to schools about how they can help children's education continue using technology. Guidance released by the government in December last year details plans schools and local authorities should make in case schools are closed for extended periods. It includes provision for long-distance learning using email, the internet and the post.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 350 councils in England and Wales, says that any decision to order the nationwide closure of schools would have to be taken extremely carefully as it has a potentially massive knock-on effect because of the numbers who could be expected to stay at home to care for their children rather than going to work.

The government advice says if schools are closed for an extended period in a flu pandemic "students should be provided with a reasonable degree of teaching and learning".
The overall planning responsibility "lies with the local authority, working with schools on planning and delivery". It calls on local authorities to discuss plans with schools now and for schools to review "the proportion of students with IT facilities at home" and the extent to which students with such facilities could access school IT systems from home. Local authorities should also consider posting work or making it available at central points such as libraries or town halls, for children without access to online systems. It adds: "A severe pandemic would cause major disruption to all aspects of life, including what is reasonable to expect of schools and local authorities - but that is not a reason to neglect planning".

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