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Coronavirus: schools closed and exams scrapped as England enters third lockdown

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Pupils follow social distancing signs as they walk along a school corridor
Pupils follow social distancing signs as they walk along a school corridor   -   Copyright  Kirsty Wigglesworth/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.
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"Online education can never be a substitute for face-to-face teaching," according to Richard Bettsworth, from the Association of School and College Leaders.

As England goes back into a nationwide lockdown that is set to last at least six weeks, he told Euronews that "schools and colleges are in a much better place now than they were in the first lockdown."

Schools across England were ordered to close their doors except for the children of critical workers and most vulnerable children and shift to online instruction.

University students won’t return to campus until at least mid-February.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the restrictions were needed to protect the struggling National Health Service as a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus sweeps across Britain.

"In the first lockdown schools were given little more than 48 hours to set up remote education for something like nine million pupils and that was incredibly challenging," said Bettsworth.

"Since then everybody has learned a lot about delivering remote education and there are much more established systems in place there is a whole host of resources out there."

Bettsworth told Euronews that shutting schools down was an inevitable response to the crisis.

"There was a SAGE meeting on December 22 just before Christmas and the minutes of that indicated that at that stage scientists gave the view it was highly unlikely that it would be possible to keep the reproduction rate of the virus below one with schools continuing to be fully open for face to face teaching.

"I think from that moment the course was pretty much set and it was just a matter of time before we saw the decision that was taken."

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has also confirmed that this year's GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled. Gove said it was "critically important that parents and students recognise that their work will be recognised at the end of this year."

The million-dollar question, according to Bettsworth, is how pupils will now be assessed.

"We're going to need very quickly some answers from the exam regulator about what their intentions are to make sure those qualifications are assessed this year in a way that gives those students the grades they deserve and recognises their efforts and is fair across the system.:

"So that's going to be very challenging, and there really is a great sense of urgency for coming forward about those plans so everybody has clarity."