Doctors’ orders: Re-open the schools!
The societal costs are mounting and the risks are low
Noteworthy: 1,500 paediatricians, members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), have signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to “urgently publish clear plans for getting children back to school”. On Sunday, 120 experts wrote to The Sunday Times saying that lockdown is having an “incredibly harmful impact” on children.
I wrote recently about the risks of sending children back, and the risks of not doing so. It’s a difficult and vexed question. But I think it’s fair to say that the bulk of expert opinion, now, suggests that the costs of keeping children at home for much longer will outweigh the risks of sending them back.
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Dr Max Davie, a paediatrician and signatory to the letter, told me that the risks to children are known to be small, and that the risks of children acting as significant reservoirs of disease seem small as well: they seem to be both less likely to catch it and less likely to transmit it. He says that there are reasonable concerns over the safety of teachers, but that steps can be taken to protect those at greater risk. (Relevant: three Bristol University researchers looked at the evidence recently and found that “Covid-19 risk does not appear greater for teachers than other working age individuals”.)
And on the other side of the ledger, he and the RCPCH are concerned about the costs in terms of mental and physical health, of education loss, of safeguarding. And this cost will not be borne equally. “I think the risk, particularly to any kind of disadvantaged child — whatever disadvantage you want to talk about — is getting very much greater,” he says. “We’ve already got very unequal outcomes in terms of mental and physical health, across disability, ethnicity and poverty, and it’s going to get worse.”
My six-year-old started back at school today; a depleted half-class in two days a week, queuing two metres apart to get in the school. He’ll only be there for four weeks before the summer holiday starts again: it will be important, says Davie, to get children some sort of contact with the school system over the summer so that vulnerable children don’t start even further behind in September.
The RCPCH is not calling for a headlong rush back, with 30 kids to a classroom, full-contact sport and swimming lessons. But it does want to know how the government plans to get all kids back in school again. In the Netherlands, children are back in full-strength classes with no social distancing between the under-12s; it’s only been 10 days, but so far there is no sign of it causing any major new outbreaks.
Most of all, everyone needs to know where they stand. “When I talk to teachers, and I do that every day,” says Davie, “they want some clarity about what the plan is, and they don’t have it.” Parents feel the same. No one is suggesting this is easy or risk-free. But the societal costs are mounting and the risks of reopening schools (in a managed way) looks small.
Well, yes, but most sensible people arrived at this conclusion a long time ago. The Danes are generally quite sensible, and their schools were reopened over two months ago.
‘Most sensible people’ – i.e. not the unions or Labour.
The attitude of the National Education Union can be seen from its guidance to members teaching secondary school children about teaching during the lockdown. Here are some highlights:
“Live-streaming lessons from home should be handled very carefully. This is due mainly to safeguarding concerns, for the pupils and the teacher. Lessons on live video platforms such as Zoom give access into all pupils’ (and the teacher’s) homes for all participants on the call. Were there to be a safeguarding incident, this could place the teacher and the school in a very difficult position.”
“…no teacher should be expected to carry out any online teaching with which they feel uncomfortable, or in the absence of agreed protocols.”
“Some teachers have found that a safer way of delivering live lessons is to not appear in person on screen, but to give the lesson in the form of a narrated presentation. This method allows the teacher more privacy. Pupils should turn off their own cameras to avoid invasion of privacy.”
“At this time, teachers should not be expected to carry out routine grading of pupils’ work. To do so would be to disadvantage those who do not have the resources and support available at home.”
There is no sense of urgency and the need to work hard and imaginatively to minimise the impact on children’s education. Indeed, the general tenor seems to be to minimise work for teachers and, if they really have to do anything, ensure they could do it without actually getting out of bed. (Honestly, I have not made up these quotes.)
Many of these teachers who you suggest are still in bed are trying to home school their own children and manage their teaching remotely. Many work into the night after their own kids gave gone to bed to get through their workload. On top of that they are attempting to look after their students pastorally with phone calls home. This school I work in has done some amazing online teaching with students, with teachers being creative and imaginative, going way beyond what they are required to do. Your suggestion that they are being lazy is simply not true in my experience and the vast majority are working hard for the students who they genuinely care about.
Only 2 deaths in the age range 1-14 according to ONS and both were girls not boys and I believe both with underlying health conditions. Risk is 0.006% for children. Report out yesterday puts the child risk at half the chance of being struck by lightning. Only one female primary school teacher has died from coronavirus. Schools with 2m distancing? It begs the question why? On a wider point I would suggest that if we had a media less inclined to got gotcha on everything and to be more supportive and positive we would be out of this a lot sooner. Some bunker mentality in the govt because of it I would suggest.
Sweden kept all schools for 16 and under fully open the whole time. I have not seen any evidence that children or teachers have been significantly adversely affected. There probably is a bit of an issue with going to see more elderly grand parents, but that is a small sacrifice any grand parent would happily make for the future well being of their grand children.
Get the children back to school.
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