Swine flu outbreak could hit school exams

HEALTH Secretary Alan Johnson is to hold talks with Schools Secretary Ed Balls over concerns that school closures linked to the swine flu outbreak could impinge on pupils sitting crucial exams.
Paignton community college was closed on Wednesday and 340 pupils and staff issued with the anti-viral medicine Tamiflu. The school is due to be closed until May 11, to ensure the outbreak has been dealt with.

However, with exams for GCSEs, AS and A Levels due in the coming weeks, there are fears more schools and colleges will be shut if the disease spreads.

Speaking in the House of Commons, East Devon MP Hugo Swire called on the Government to ensure official examination are not affected.

""Many schoolchildren and their parents in Devon and elsewhere will be very concerned about this,"" Mr Swire said. ""Not least if there is an extension in terms of quarantining schools that may have these outbreaks.""

He called on Mr Johnson to consult Mr Balls to ""ensure that there is provision for those who are barred from attending school when it comes to their exams"".

Mr Johnson said he would hold talks, but added that ""at the moment it is far too early to be thinking about that"".

""We are looking to isolate and contain this, which means it makes sense to close the school in these circumstances.

""I hope that other schools will not be affected, in Paignton or anywhere else, but we need to look at this on the basis of which phase of the situation we are in at the moment, and the advice of the local education authority and teachers.

""We will also have to deal with the situation around exams, which we dealt with during the floods a couple of years ago, as part of those measures."" The Department for Children, Schools and Families has issued guidance to all schools and local authorities on planning for, and responding to, pandemic flu.

A spokesman said: ""While one school has closed in Devon due to a confirmed case we would expect schools and children's services to be operating normally as long as there are no potential cases.

""We cannot say at this stage whether schools are likely to have to close in the event of this becoming a pandemic and spreading in the UK. We would decide at the appropriate time, taking account of the best available medical advice, and acting in the best interests of children and young people.""

Schools ministers continue to monitor the situation through existing cross-Government arrangements.

Officials also stress that exams watchdog Ofqual and the exam awarding bodies have developed business continuity plans to deal with situations like this.

It excludes giving ""special consideration"" when a student misses an exam through illness or other reasons.

""Guidance will be made available to schools and colleges should the situation escalate to ensure exams continue to go as smoothly as possible,"" the spokesman added.