The government says plans are in place for free school meals in the event of coronavirus closures

Plans are being drawn up by the government to help families entitled to free meals if schools are shut over coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were "plans ready to go" if schools are ordered to close their doors.

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The Government has so far insisted school closures are not justified as part of the effort to combat Covid-19, but the biggest teachers’ union has called for that step to be taken.

Plan in place for those of free school meals

The prime minister was asked about the impact closures might have on children who are eligible for free meals.

Mr Johnson said, "Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has a plan to make sure that parents with kids who are eligible for free school meals get the compensation or the treatment they need one way or the other, we certainly anticipated that."

Announcing the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections, Williamson said closures would only take place if the chief medical officer or chief scientific adviser say it is in the best interests of children and teachers.

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The possibility of school closures is contained in the Government’s action plan for the pandemic and Number 10 sources said they had “never shied away from the fact” that they might have to happen.

National Education Union calls for schools to be closed

The National Education Union (NEU) called for schools to be closed "at least for some time and at least in some areas" due to the outbreak.

The NEU said the running of schools will become “all the more complicated” as they advise teachers and staff who are classed as vulnerable to self-isolate. But Mr Williamson said current medical and scientific guidance says schools and other educational settings should remain open.

NEU joint general secretaries, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, said there was an “apparent contradiction” between banning mass gatherings and keeping schools open, in a letter to Mr Johnson on Tuesday.

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They referred to guidance that says pregnant women, people over the age of 70 and those with certain health conditions will be asked to stay at home in the coming days.

Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney said, “We intend to advise all our members in these categories or caring for people in them to stop attending schools and colleges from next Monday at the latest. Some will do so earlier.

"This will make the running of schools all the more complicated. Given your failure to release modelling comparing different scenarios of school closures, we are now forced to call on you to close schools, at least for some time and at least in some areas."

Union proposes schools to open on a limited basis

Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney proposed that teachers and school leaders work on plans to open schools on a limited basis.

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This would allow care for pupils whose parents work in emergency services and distribution, as well as ensuring children in food poverty have access to free school meals, they said.

Whitehall sources said officials had been talking to exam boards for weeks about the potential disruption to GCSE and A-level exams.