English schools hit by swine flu may have to scrap exams
Pupils at schools hit by swine flu could get grades without sitting exams under emergency plans being considered today.
Discussions were taking place to consider options for students due to take exams in the coming weeks as five schools were closed due to the virus.
GCSE exams begin across the UK this week, with a design and technology practical exam, from the OCR board, due to take place tomorrow. It is not known if pupils at any of the affected schools are sitting this exam.
Schools hit by the illness were rescheduling exams or asking for special consideration for GCSE and A-level pupils.
Exam regulator Ofqual is due to hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation after announcing on Friday it was drawing up contingency plans in the event of disruption.
It is understood that this could mean pupils sitting exams elsewhere, or, if they are sick with swine flu, be awarded a grade based on papers or coursework they have completed.
Schools minister Jim Knight told the Guardian: "There are already procedures in place if candidates can't sit their exams and are given special consideration.
"That can be put into action if things get worse. In contingency terms all these things are being discussed by exam boards."
A Department for Children Schools and Families spokeswoman confirmed officials were working with Ofqual and the exam boards to put contingency plans in place.
She said: "Arrangements will be made on a case by case basis, so that all students are fairly treated.
"Basing final results on other evidence, like coursework or modules already completed (also known as special consideration), is just one contingency arrangement, and would only happen in specific circumstances where a student was unable to take a particular exam.
"This is a tried and tested system that exam boards use to award students grades if they are unable to take an exam for a given reason."
Legal advice on dealing with swine flu was issued to private schools across the country yesterday.
The Independent Schools Council issued guidance to more than 1,200 fee-paying schools, suggesting they consider setting up "quarantine rooms" for pupils suspected of having the virus.
It comes after five schools, including three private schools, shut because pupils fell ill with the H1N1 virus.
The Department of Health said an adult in the south east of England was also diagnosed yesterday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the UK to 28.
A spokesman said the latest case was "associated with travel to Mexico".
He said: "It is right that we are preparing for the possibility of a global pandemic.
"The UK's arrangements are continuing to ensure that we are well-placed to deal with this new infection."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said swine flu was a "major worry" to secondaries.
Alleyn's School in Dulwich, south east London, closed after five Year 7 pupils were diagnosed on Monday.
In an updated statement, Alleyn's School said it was rescheduling A-level exams in art, biology and foreign languages for next week.
It said: "The examinations officer is contacting the examination boards at the highest level to ensure that they are fully aware of the disruption for public examination candidates that the closure of the school has entailed.
"In line with procedure, the school will be writing to the examination boards, who are always sympathetic to students in these circumstances."
The school said 90% of parents have now collected Tamiflu anti-viral medication.
Paignton Community and Sports College in Devon was one of the first to shut after a 12-year-old girl contracted the disease after holidaying in Mexico.
A statement on the school's website said: "The college is in contact with the examination boards regarding GCSE and post-16 exams which will be taking place shortly to ask for special consideration to be given to Paignton Community and Sports College in regard to the loss of six-and-a-half days' education and the anxiety and stress our pupils are under at this time."
Downend School in South Gloucestershire said "no examinations will take place either at Downend or be relocated elsewhere for the closure period". Alternative arrangements are being made.
South Hampstead High School in north west London said arrangements were being made for exams.
The Dolphin School in Battersea, south London, a private preparatory school, announced it was closing for a few days on Monday night after two of its pupils fell ill with the virus.
The pupils are siblings and are close contacts of a previously confirmed case, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.
The HPA said closure was not necessary, but the decision was taken by governors as a precautionary measure.
A nationwide leaflet drop began across the UK yesterday, giving advice on how people can reduce their chances of catching swine flu and what they should do if they develop symptoms.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said earlier this week that he expected a second, more serious, wave of cases later this year.
The DoH's swine flu information line is 0800 1513 513.