The Government is poised to announce plans to close schools in England, The Telegraph understands.
Closures are likely to start next week, in line with Scotland and Wales, but some schools will need to stay open as creches and youth clubs for the children of key workers.
Headteachers around the country are already preparing to shut their doors for all but children of those working in healthcare, the police or other emergency services.
Wales and Scotland will shut their schools on Friday for an early Easter break, while Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, earlier said an announcement on English schools was “imminent”.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “As part of their contingency planning, schools are identifying the children of key workers, as well as vulnerable children, so that they are able to provide them with continuity of learning and support in the event of a wider school closure.
“With significant numbers of teachers self-isolating, schools are endeavouring to ensure that available resources are targeted where the need is greatest.”
The Government has come under increasing pressure to set out a timeline for school closures in England, with teachers’ unions accusing ministers of creating “chaos and confusion”.
Schools are already operating partial closures as they struggle to cope with staff absences. Pupil attendance has also dropped to around 70 to 80 per cent in most schools, according to the ASCL.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said further decisions on schools would be taken “imminently”.
“I want to pay a particular tribute not only to the NHS but also to our teachers,” he said. “Of course we will do everything we can to remove burdens on schools and Ofsted is one in particular we can address… The House should expect further decisions to be taken imminently.”
Mr Johnson had previously ruled out closing schools because key workers such as NHS staff would be forced to take time off to attend to childcare. But there had been suggestions that exams could be pushed back to September.
Schools in Ireland, Belgium, France and Spain were closed last week in an attempt to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
The Welsh Government said on Wednesday that the Easter holiday would be brought forward and all schools in Wales will shut by Friday.
Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Minister for Education, said plans were being made for Welsh schools to be re-purposed 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.
“I have been clear up to now that the continuity of education and the well-being 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.
“I am working with my colleagues in the Cabinet, with government officials and our partners in local government, to develop and finalise these plans.”
Nicola Sturgeon said schools in Scotland would close at the end of this week because they have now lost too many staff to continue as normal.
The First Minister of Scotland said she wanted to reassure teachers and school staff that the Government would work with them as they know what is best for children, adding that officials were still working out the finer details of what this will all mean.