The UK government has ordered all of the country’s schools and nurseries to close on Friday 20 March until further notice in a bid to stem the spread of covid-19.

Speaking in the House of Commons, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that “after schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice” amid wider national efforts to limit the impact of the deadly coronavirus on UK citizens.

He added, however, that "this will be for all children, except for those of key workers and children who are most vulnerable” – which includes those with special educational needs.

Key workers include NHS staff, emergency services workers and delivery drivers.

In a separate press conference, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “As for the provision of the vulnerable and key workers’ children… on Monday, we want all children in those groups to still go to their schools.”

He added that the government will “be setting out more detail on this in the very, very near future”.

Not all schools will be required to remain open in some capacity, as vulnerable students and the children of key workers could be transferred to another school within their catchment, said Johnson. 

GCSE and A-level exams scheduled for May and June will not go ahead, Johnson added, immediately raising questions over university intakes in September and progression from school to sixth form, college or vocational training for Year 11 students.

When questioned by a journalist on this particular point, Johnson said: “We will make sure their progress is not impeded and we will make sure they get the qualifications they need.

“I don’t want to go into detail about how these qualifications will be administered, but it will be done fairly to protect their interests.”

All state and private schools – including those with boarding facilities – will be forced to close, prompting further uncertainty around what will happen to boarding students whose parents live overseas in countries that have imposed international travel bans.

Johnson said that the government would try to keep the duration of closures “to an absolute minimum”, but could not offer a firm timeline around when UK schools and nurseries may be permitted to re-open.

Johnson said that "we will work to ensure crèches are properly compensated", but offered no further details on what form support packages could take. 

Earlier today, Scotland and Wales announced that schools would close on Friday for an indefinite period of time.

Students in the UK will join some 849 million students worldwide who are currently out of school.