SCHOOLS across England are to close on Friday, Boris Johnson has announced today.

The prime minister has just confirmed the news parents have been expecting at a daily press conference this afternoon.

He said: “After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed, for the vast majority of pupils, until further notice.

“The objective is to slow the spread of the virus and we judge that this is the right moment to do that.”

"We think now that we must apply further downward pressure on that upward curve by closing the schools."

Mr Johnson added: "We will take the right steps at the right time guided by the science.

"We believe that the steps we have already taken, together with those I am announcing today, are already slowing the spread of the disease.

"But we will not hesitate to go further and faster in the days and weeks ahead and we will do whatever it takes so that we beat it together."

Mr Johnson said schools will remain open for children of key workers and the most vulnerable.

Just before that, speaking the House of Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs: "I want to provide parents, students and staff with the certainty they need.

"This will be for all children except to those of key workers and where children who are most vulnerable."

Mr Williamson said: "I know the situation has become increasingly challenging.

"I've said before that if the science and the advice changed, such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interest of children and teachers, that we would act. We are now at that stage."

Mr Williamson said the Government is "expecting" early years providers, sixth forms and further education colleges to do the same.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed the Government's announcement that, for public health reasons, schools will now close.

He said: "It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.

"We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams are to be cancelled.

"This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.

"We note that, at this time of emergency, the Government has decided that teacher assessment is indeed a good method of giving reliable information about young people's progress and achievements. We will return to that when this crisis is over.

"Now, more than anything else the Government needs to concentrate on ensuring that children in food poverty are fed properly, these children are not just those on free school meals."

It follows the decision to close schools in Scotland and Wales earlier in the day.

Headteacher across the region have said they have been preparing for the announcement. 

Jane Davis, headteacher of Lanchester EP Primary School, said: “We have been waiting for this announcement and has to be the most sensible thing to do, bearing in mind how quickly germs spread amongst children.

“Today, we have closed our nursery for the rest of the week due to unprecedented numbers of staff absences. This is only going to get worse.

“As a school, we have been preparing for this all week.

“However, it is essential we take time to reassure both children and parents. These can be scary times for our little ones.”

Ms Davis said school closure did not mean pupils’ education should suffer.

She said: “We feel confident that as a school, we can continue to provide some good education for our children from a distance.

“A suggested daily timetable will be given to parents so that they have some kind of routine.

“We are providing our children with a variety of activities in the forms of worksheets, work and reading that can be done in an exercise book they will be given.

“However, we are also a very active digital learning school and we will be communicating daily with our children through our VLE ‘eSchools’.

“Work will be set daily for the children on their class page and there is also a class blog so the children can still interact with both their teacher and each other.

“Whilst social contact is going to be limited, social media will be key for many families and the regular interaction with school that provides.”

“We will get through this together. Schools are strong communities.

"Our parents have been brilliantly supportive and I am confident that, we will all come out of these rather strange and surreal times stronger.

“World events of this week and month will be History lessons when our children from school have their own children.”

Before the announcement was made Chris Keates, head of the NASUWT teachers’ union keeping schools open was causing chaos and confusion, withs fears pupils are carrying the virus.

She there was a "rising sense of panic" in schools as staff fear for their safety as more and more people get ill.

Kay Hemmings, headteacher of Tanfield Lea Community Primary School, said: “For the last week schools have been putting measures in place to ensure that, if they do have to close, support can be given to parents to manage children’s time at home as much as is possible.

It’s been a difficult week for staff but a necessary one.

“We have tried to keep things as normal as possible for the children amidst the growing concern and parents have clearly recognised this and supported us sending their children in if at all possible.

“Our school, like many, have kept parents informed. Most schools have access to on-line resources that children can log on to and be assigned tasks.

“They have already informed parents how to access these.

“In addition to this, our school have distributed English and maths workbooks to all children.

“We sent these out yesterday and still have a few to deliver to families who have already had to self-isolate. We hope to do this tomorrow or Friday.

“Our teachers will then communicate with parents on a daily basis, via email, to explain to parents what they’d like their children to complete that day."

“We hope the government will also recognise the need to support these vulnerable families.

“It’s a really difficult time but, by putting these measures in place, we hope that we are making this slightly easier for the families in our communities.”

Mark Stewart, of Stanley Learning Partnership, said: "This is a very difficult time we find ourselves in, particularly for schools.

"In response to the Government's decision to close all schools, whilst this a very challenging time for everyone, we are pleased to have clear direction as to how to move forward.

"As with many schools, Stanley Learning Partnership schools have a clear plan in place as to how we can best support our families and ensure the impact upon children's learning is kept to a minimum. 

"Home workpacks were distributed last week with further activities being added to our website weekly as school closures continue.

"We will do our utmost during this period to work with all agencies to support our most vulnerable pupils and our lines of communication with families will remain well and truly open via our social media channels.

"Whilst we appreciate the importance of education and qualifications, the safety and welfare of our children and communities is our priority."