Welcome to another year.
As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists schools should reopen across the country, teaching unions, heads of schools, some councils and parents are demanding all schools in the UK remain closed while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.
Currently only primary schools in the whole of London and in some parts of Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex will remain closed. Some schools across the country have started to re-open, with the first lot of children having their first day back at school, today.
Those in favour of opening schools, including Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman, say schools must stay open to ensure children’s education does not fall behind.
They say schools should re-open as long as safety measures are applied and/ or vaccines are rolled out to teachers as a priority. Some experts are also concerned that children exposed to domestic abuse and violence will be hidden from plain sight during another lockdown, placing their lives at risk.
Other experts take a different view.
A paper published on 31 December and prepared by the Children’s Task and Finish Group (TFC) on children, schools and transmission found that “Accumulating evidence is consistent with increased transmission occurring amongst school children when schools are open, particularly in children of secondary school age (high confidence).”
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has told the government to keep all schools closed throughout January as growing evidence confirms that children are not only susceptible to infection, but are able to pass the virus on to others.
Meanwhile, the government has failed to ensure that all children in the UK can have access to computers and high quality online education, after Britain experienced its first lockdown in March of last year. Crucially, it has also not yet come up with a plan to ensure that children experiencing domestic abuse and violence at home have real-world protection during lockdown, including for example, frequent police visits to check up on their welfare.
Our question this week then, is just this: should schools stay open or shut until the virus has been suppressed to lower levels?