What does lockdown mean for school, college and university students?

student writing at their desk, with a face mask lying on top of their books

England was put under national lockdown on Monday 4 January 2021, with schools, colleges and universities moving learning online until at least mid-February

On 4 January, Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown across England to try to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Under these restrictions, everyone is asked to stay home and only leave for essential reasons such as food shopping or doctors’ appointments.

Schools and colleges have been closed, except for students who are vulnerable or whose parents are key workers.

Most university courses will also be moved to online learning during the lockdown, unless it’s a course that can’t be taught remotely such as a medical degree.

Here’s what the latest lockdown in England means for students at school, college or university.

students in a lesson at school

Will schools and colleges stay open?

No – the government has said that schools and colleges will close until at least the February half term for most students, with all learning moved online.

You can find the official government guidance online here.

How will next summer’s GCSE, A-level and Btec exams be affected by the lockdown?

The summer 2021 GCSE and A-level exams will not go ahead this summer as planned, the government has confirmed.

When making the announcement about school closures, the prime minister Boris Johnson said that “we recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. The education secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements”.

The education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that students will be given teacher-assessed grades in place of exams – adding that no algorithms will be used this time around as they were for 2020's cancelled exams before the government's U-turn

"I can confirm that GCSEs, A-level and AS-level exams will not go ahead this summer. This year we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms," Williamson said. 

Although the details still need to be "fine-tuned with Ofqual, the exam boards and teaching representative organisations, I can confirm now that I wish to use a form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided, to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country," Williamson told the House of Commons on 6 January. 

Btec and other vocational exams that were scheduled for January might still go ahead, but it will be up to the individual colleges to decide. The January Btec exams can still take place “where they [the colleges] judge it right to do so," the Department for Education (DfE) has said. 

Join the conversation about the 2021 GCSE and A-level exams in this thread, and speak to other Btec students about January's vocational exams here.

student taking an exam

Will universities stay open?

Universities will be moving most teaching online – the exception being courses that can’t be taught remotely.

The government guidance advises that students who do need to return for face-to-face learning should be tested twice on arrival or self-isolate for ten days.

According to the government guidance, the courses that will still involve in-person teaching are:

  • Medicine and dentistry
  • Subjects allied to medicine/health
  • Veterinary science
  • Education (initial teacher training)
  • Social work
  • Courses which involve Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be moved (your university will let you know if this applies to you).

Students on any of these courses will be able to meet in groups bigger than their household if needed as part of their education or training.

Students not taking any of these courses – even if it is a practical course – should “remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least mid-February,” the guidance says.

These government guidelines explain how students should safely return to university for the spring term.

More like thishow to make the most of your study space for online learning at university.

student walking outside carrying books and wearing a face mask

Can university students travel between university and home?

University students should avoid travelling between addresses, and instead either stay at home or at their student house or halls.

“If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time,” the guidance explains.

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