Return of the schools: Reasonable or Rushed?

Sophie Bond - Writer

As you will be aware, there is the current debate as to whether schools should be returning before the summer for a month. While the schools have still been open, essentially as a form of childcare for key workers’ children, the government is planning on sending reception, years 1 and 6 back just before the summer holidays. But the issue at hand is whether schools are safe to reopen when the coronavirus is still a risk, and if parents should be sending their children back.

The government has clearly stated that they will reduce the class sizes to only 15 pupils per class in order to help the social distancing rule to remain intact. In addition to this, only certain year groups are permitted to go back based on the scientific evidence they have received. It has been found that in the UK only 3 under 15s were registered to have died from Covid-19 on the 22nd May, suggesting that they are less susceptible to getting it in a strong form. In addition to that, there were 448 deaths registered for the 15-44 age bracket, which is considerably lower than the over 75s with 30,135 deaths on the 22nd May. Not only have the government reviewed the science given by SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), but they have also compiled data for different scenarios of schools returning to see what would be the safest way to get children back into education. Data shows that sending the early years children back first is a ‘robust’ way of sending children back, with a smaller chance of increasing the rate of infection. It also shows that alternating children would be the least robust way and therefore requires further exploration to see whether it would be effective enough. From the science it seems like the schools returning in this manner could be a viable option, no? So why are so many parents concerned and not wanting their children to return to school?

Not only is it deemed scientifically safe, but the way school benefits childrens’ minds and mental health is another reason for the push for children to go back to school. Lee Hudson is for the return of schools to protect the children’s mental health, suggesting that there is a negative effect of adverse social determinants that the children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. The lack of socialising is an unfamiliar thing with not only children, but adults too, except these children may not completely understand why they cannot see their friends or keep learning. This could lead to children being confused and overwhelmed, causing a big hit to their mental health. 

Well, despite children being less vulnerable than adults, the over 75s in particular, they are still at risk of getting and transmitting the virus. While the chances are low, no parent would want to risk their child’s life when it is not needed. In addition, 15 children is still a lot of children who will be mixing with each other, who will then go back to 15 different households to people who may even be in the vulnerable category, thus risking their loved ones. So whilst the risk of children being harmed by the virus is low, there is an argument to suggest that starting to reopen schools risks the spread of the virus However, the government has recommended that the children living with highly vulnerable people do not attend school settings until it is safe to do so. 

Additionally, there has been a lot of media attention about the lack of PPE teachers have been given, despite working with key workers' children. This leads to teachers and children becoming more vulnerable to the transmission of Covid-19 and could potentially cause an increase in the new cases and death rate. Sir David King, leader of Independent Sage (a rival group of scientists to Sage) states that the 1st June is too early to go back and is a dangerous decision, furthering that ‘the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike. The group Independent Sage also emphasise that schools should only reopen when there is an ability to track the virus. However, the new test and trace system may be what is needed for the classroom environment to be a safe one. 

Hannah Richardson and Katherine Sellgren (2020) report on a letter which was written to the education ministers of the five nations that the British Irish Group of Teacher Unions represent. The union argued that a premature opening of schools risks creating another spike in coronavirus transmission, whilst the number of infections remains high. While education is something that a lot of people, including the government, are wanting to return, it is also important to make sure it is safe for those involved - including the teachers. The letter the union wrote also stated that personal protective equipment (PPE) would be vital to make the school environment as safe as possible. However, it seems that teachers’ protection is not as high of a priority as other key workers, endangering both staff and pupils.

Ultimately, there is evidence which suggests children could return to education safely, especially if the correct protection equipment is provided and social distancing is enforced. However, there is still a risk and people may still see that risk as unnecessary and choose to keep their child home from school - this is a decision sensibly left to parents. The government seem to have been sensible by starting with the least vulnerable age groups and have scientific evidence to back their decisions. So, whilst the decision feels slightly rushed, maybe the schools reopening is not as bad as it may first seem and some normality is needed to get society back on track. 

Photo: Taylor Wilcox [Accessed 25/05/2020]


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