Europe

School closures: Should schools reopen in January? Experts break silence

Omicron: SAGE warning calls for policy decisions 'sooner'

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Over the past month, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed several new Covid restrictions on the UK public. This comes after daily Covid cases have risen sharply – breaking records on a number of occasions – and the Omicron variant continues to spread through communities. As of yet, schools have not been told to close their doors to students and now an education expert is calling on the Government to consider the mental welfare of children before any more closures are decided.

Rosalyn Sword, is a education sector specialist, who works for High Speed Training – a leading UK online training provider for a variety of different subjects.

Speaking to Express.co.uk she said that it is “imperative” that the Government places a “huge focus” on children’s mental health and well-being amidst speculation around potential school closures.

She said: “Of course it is fantastic that we live in an age where online learning is a possibility, and children are still able to maintain some form of consistency with their learning whilst at home.

“However, the lack of social interaction and many parents trying to navigate working from home full time whilst helping with online school tasks can prove extremely difficult for both parents and children.

“Recent studies have shown that, although schools have now reopened, the negative well-being impacts of closures are likely to last for months after.

“With this in mind, whilst tackling rising Covid rates is obviously a priority, it’s really pivotal that our government takes all of these points into consideration before making any decisions around school closures that could impact children’s health in the long term.”

Ms Sword revealed that her employer had witnessed a 100 percent increase in the number of people taking child mental health courses in the last 18 months. This growth observation was based on research conducted earlier this year between January 29 and April 2.

The survey involved polling 2,000 UK parents, of children aged two to 16, who’ve helped home-school since the pandemic began.

Ms Sword added that while it was “fantastic” that more people were being educated about the link between mental health and children that the Government now needs to recognise its significance when making future decisions on schools.

She said: “It’s now time that this issue comes to the forefront of the government’s agenda, to ensure that the next generation is supported through what has been an extremely difficult couple of years.”

Express.co.uk also spoke to a secondary school teacher, who said that although she thinks schools should not close in January, more needed to be done to think about the long term impacts the pandemic has had on children.

She told us: “The problem we have now is that when pupils are in school, they’re more worried about catching Covid than they are about their own education because of the way this has been framed during the whole outbreak.

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“The amount of children that are worried about coming into school because they’ve been told they’ll ‘kill granny’… in the long run, that is far more detrimental than them staying home.

“The real issue is that everyone making these rules think we, as teachers, just stand at the front of the class, so it’s easy to transfer this to an online setting.

“But that’s far from the case, and it’s very clear that the ministers in charge in the Government haven’t been in a classroom for 20 years and have no real clue about what we do, day in and day out.

“They say we can just stay away, keep two metres distance, but how can you? There are some kids that don’t ask for help and we have to know when to step in, sit next to them and quietly offer our support.

“We need to be able to offer one-to-one help, and pastoral support, and you can’t do that from two metres away.”

The comments come after several Government ministers refused recently to rule out the prospect of schools closing before students return for the January term.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he would do “everything” in his power to make sure schools don’t close again but that he couldn’t say for certain if this would be the case.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that: “We are absolutely working to make sure that all schools are open, that they’re protected.

“We know that a booster works. Get boosted, protect yourself, protect your community and let’s get through this and transition this from pandemic to endemic.”

Nonetheless, under current Government guidance, UK schools are expected to offer in-person teaching when they return in 2022.

Indeed, the following measures are due to be in place for English schools when they return in the New Year:

  • Testing on return to school
  • Increased vaccination uptake
  • Improved classroom ventilation
  • Enhanced hygiene

However, as daily Covid case numbers for the UK continue to increase – a record 119,789 reported on Thursday, December 23 – concerns are growing that more Covid restrictions will soon be introduced by the Government.

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