Schools in Scotland and Wales are to close in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, amid speculation that similar measures could be announced in England.
The Welsh government said on Wednesday that all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest.
Minutes later First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland will also close by the end of the week.
Those announcements came after Boris Johnson told the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions that further decisions on school closures were “to be taken imminently”.
He said: “The House should expect further decisions to be taken imminently on schools and how to make sure we square the circle both of making sure we stop the spread of the disease but also making sure we relieve, as much as we can, pressure on our NHS.”
Ms Sturgeon said schools have now lost too many staff to continue as normal.
She said she wanted to reassure teachers and school staff that the government would work with them as they know what is best for children.
The First Minister said the Scottish Government is still working out the finer detail of what this will all mean.
Welsh minister for education Kirsty Williams said plans were being made for schools in Wales to be repurposed to help people “involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak”.
She said: “I can announce we are bringing forward the Easter break for schools in Wales. Schools across Wales will close for statutory provision of education at the latest on 20 March 2020.
From next week, schools will have a new purposeKirsty Williams, Welsh education minister
“I have been clear up to now that the continuity of education and the wellbeing of our learners has been at the heart of my decision-making. This will always be the case.
“From next week, schools will have a new purpose. They will help support those most in need, including people involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak.”
On Wednesday, Stormont sources said schools in Northern Ireland would close to pupils from 5pm on Wednesday, although teachers will attend for another two days.
Despite official Government advice that educational institutions should remain open in England some have reported up to a third of staff off sick, or self-isolating because of Covid-19.
Resources and information for school/college leaders on #coronavirusuk is available on our website here https://t.co/RJFW7KO3GO Link to our guidance is here https://t.co/Mbuzqp9U1A #CoronavirusOutbreak #COVID19 uk pic.twitter.com/XePUKvXRDf— ASCL (@ASCL_UK) March 18, 2020
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told PA schools are facing an “extremely difficult situation” with large numbers of staff away from work.
He said: “Yesterday, we were hearing that the number of staff away was between 10% to 20% in many schools, and it is likely that this will increase today and as time goes on.
“This is making it difficult for schools to remain open, and a number of schools have already instigated partial closures in which they send some year groups home.
“This is likely to become more commonplace, and we will also increasingly see full closures.”