Swine flu could force pupils to sit exams in isolation
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers could be forced to sit their GCSE exams in isolation from the rest of their school if a flu pandemic is declared, it was disclosed today.
Pupils who are sick with swine flu on the day of their exams could still be awarded a grade based on papers or coursework they have completed.
Meanwhile, universities and colleges could cancel lectures, and have been encouraged to set up "flu buddy" systems so those not affected by the virus could support those who were.
Exams regulator Ofqual today said it was drawing up contingency plans in the even of disruption to the test and examination system.
In a statement it said: "Schools and colleges will be made aware of the appropriate contingency plans if they need to take any action with regard to examinations or national curriculum tests."
It added: "The contingency plan has been developed to ensure that the system remains fair to all students. Awarding bodies have well established procedures for dealing with situations where students are unable to sit their examinations. We will ensure that any decisions taken are evidence based and that standards are not undermined."
These plans are understood to be based on established procedures already in place.
For example, at present if a school has been closed for a particular reason, such as a fire, then arrangements are made for Year 11 pupils to sit their exams in a different centre away from the school.
Or if an individual pupil misses an exam due to special circumstances, they can still be awarded a grade.
Ofqual said they were encouraging pupils to carry on revising as normal.
The Department for Children Schools and Families said it could not comment on whether exams would be cancelled if a pandemic was declared and large scale gatherings were banned.
A DCSF spokesman said: "We can't comment on something that hasn't happened yet, but there are contingency plans in place."
Paignton Community and Sports College in Devon has been closed after a 12-year-old girl contracted the disease, after holidaying in Mexico.
A second school in Bristol is also understood to have closed with a suspected case of swine flu.
Separate guidance published by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills today said that in the event of a pandemic, colleges and universities should "assess the impact" of the disease.
This includes "considering whether there are services that could be scaled up/down, and/or suspended should it prove necessary."
It adds: "Students should be encouraged to consider setting up 'flu buddy schemes', so that those who have not been affected by the virus can support those that have (every effort should be made to ensure that physical contact is kept to a minimum). This may be of particular value for students living alone with no local or family support."