Potential impact of coronavirus on the Education sector – Friday 6 March 2020

This week I report on the Government’s plans in relation to education should the coronavirus escalate, the updating of RPI so that maintained schools can enjoy the same benefits as academies and the announcement of a multi-million pound Government investment in the future of UK science.

Pupils could be sent elsewhere under UK coronavirus plans
The Government is drawing up a series of emergency laws should the coronavirus escalate. Children and teachers could be made to transfer to alternative schools if their own is shut but the Prime Minister played down the risks of widespread school shutdowns at a press conference to deliver the Government’s coronavirus “battle plan” on Tuesday. He didn’t believe schools should close in principle but confirmed that school authorities should follow the advice of Public Health England.

The legislation is expected to permit the relaxing of constraints on class sizes and the sending of pupils and teachers to other schools if theirs is closed or demand is created by staff being off sick. The powers would be strictly temporary, either through the inclusion of a sunset clause or by allowing the legislation to lapse once the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer declare that the disease is no longer an epidemic.

Risk Protection Arrangements (RPI)
The DfE’s RPI have been updated with new membership rules for community schools, voluntary aided, foundation and foundation special schools and voluntary controlled schools, as they can now save money by joining the scheme (provided by industry professionals on behalf of the DfE) rather than purchasing commercial insurance.

Local authority maintained schools can join the RPA using the DfE’s online portal from mid-March with cover starting from 1 April. The cost is £18 per pupil, per year and £18 per place, per year, for special and alternative provision academies, special schools and pupil referral units. For academies, this covers the academic year 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2020 and for local authority maintained schools this covers the financial year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.

Multi-million government investment in the future of UK science
To mark the start of British Science Week, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson have announced funding to support up to 11,000 students through 41 Doctoral Training Partnerships, as well as encourage more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career. The investment includes:

  • £179 million for PhDs, formally known as Doctoral Training Partnerships, at over 40 UK universities in physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing.
  • £8.9 million to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A level and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career.