What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools

Here in the UK the government had wanted primary schools to re-open on the 1st June. There was immediate push back from the teacher's unions, their position receiving support from the chair of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul.

On the 15th May Mr Nagpaul said in a letter to the National Education Union there was conflicting evidence from scientific studies on the effect of reopening schools, citing the “relatively small amount of research available and the uncharted territory we find ourselves in”. He said “until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.”

In an article produced by the BBC on 20th May, it was reported that in the UK, 0.01% of deaths were people under 15, 1% were aged 15-44 and about 75% were over 75. Put another way, 3 children under 15 had died with covid-19. The BBC article goes on to report “the role of children in transmission is unclear, but consistent evidence is demonstrating a lower likelihood of acquiring infection, and lower rates of children bringing infections into households.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan says that children are “less capable” of spreading the virus, and are at “very low risk” of getting ill from the disease. “What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools.”

The British Medical Association has since softened its stance, and on 19th May said schools can reopen on 1st June, or earlier, as long as it is “safe to do so”. The BMA accept there is “growing evidence that the risk to individual children from Covid-19 is extremely small.”

With schools closed, parents have been asked to home school their children. Home schooling is possible if one has access to a computer and the Internet, but can it work if there is only one Internet capable device in the home and the parents are having to use it to work from home? A survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2018 found 12% of students between the ages of 11 and 18, a total of about 700,000, had no internet access from computers or tablets. The survey reported another 60,000 students said they had no home internet access at all. The ONS comments that;

Of those in this age group, 68% who did have home internet access reported that they would find it difficult to complete school work without it, suggesting that there may be educational implications for those without internet access.

An American publication, Education Next has considered the effect of school closures on children's education. They cite the example of teacher strikes which closed French Belgian schools for more than two months in 1990. Students affected by the strike “were more likely to repeat a grade and did not advance as far in higher education as similar Flemish-speaking students whose teachers did not strike”.

Inevitably, it will be children from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose parents cannot afford home computers, who will be unable to access on-line schooling during the lockdown and whose education will suffer more than their middle class contemporaries.

This morning it was reported that a group of independent scientists (calling themselves the Independent Sage committee and chaired by former chief scientific adviser Sir David King) had produced modeling which apparently shows delaying school opening by another two weeks will half the risks to children from the virus.

The question I am left asking is whether halving what is already a tiny risk is worth the additional damage to the children's education and their future prospects?

21st May 2020

#journal #coronavirus #lockdown #schools