Is it safe for schools to go back? Experts warn NO
Currently only one percent of the nation’s children are in school – all of which are the children of key workers and vulnerable people. The closure of schools has long been indicated as one of the first measures to be relaxed, but experts have lambasted the plans, saying they are not safe and could lead to a second wave of coronavirus.
The issue is contentious: the science of to what extent children contribute to the pandemic, and by how much, is uncertain.
As far as scientists can tell, children are less susceptible to developing serious symptoms of the virus.
But what we don’t know is whether children are simply resistant to picking up the virus, or whether they can harbour it, albeit with a lack of symptoms.
Children have missed out on weeks of vital education, and keeping children out of classrooms for a prolonged period could have years of knock on effects, not only on the children but on the education system as a whole.
Sending children back into mainstream education is also key in helping kickstart the economy, allowing parents to fully return to work, something the Prime Minister and Chancellor are extremely keen to do.
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School leaders and ministers have indicated the earliest date schools could return is June 1, despite the fact the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he will not reopen schools until scientific advice suggests that it is safe to do so and that there are no plans to reopen schools over the summer.
The main issue with reopening schools is that they could become a hotbed for the virus to spread, if the theory that children show less symptoms is true.
This then leads to the question of how to maintain social distancing, which anyone can imagine as being nothing short of a logistical nightmare, particularly in primary schools.
Because of this, education and medical experts have warned sending children back as soon as June 1 does not allow for proper planning on how to make education safe, which could have a catastrophic impact on public health.
Speaking to the Guardian, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Instructing school leaders and their teams to return without including them in the planning stages or sharing proper safety arrangements would be extremely reckless”
NHS Consultant Dr Selena Langdon has told Express.co.uk that the return of schools is likely to cause a second wave of infections, and the lack of knowledge about how to implement safe practices in schools poses an even higher risk.
“We do know that social distancing measures are working and that the peak of the current wave of infection has passed but a return to normal activities too quickly will likely lead to a second wave.
“The risks from just one infective person in such a setting to everyone else are high.
In Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, schools have been reopened with heavy safety measures in place, such as plastic partitions and face masks being mandatory, as well as social distancing guidelines.
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“These are all necessary measures to help students to observe the principles of social distancing while in a confined setting such as a school, however the effectiveness is untested,” Dr Langdon adds.
“Of course, any such measures only work with students of a certain age who can moderate their own actions.
“For the very young there would be no measures possible which would achieve a reasonable level of protection against virus spread.
“As the government has failed to protect frontline NHS staff, the risks that a poorly executed opening of schools poses is considerable.
“While the rate of hospitalisation of children is low, an increase in deaths of children from an ill-timed return to school would be devastating.”
Jonathan Doherty, Senior Lecturer in Education at Leeds Trinity University, has indicated to Express.co.uk that sending children back to school anytime soon could put lives at risk unnecessarily, especially considering the wide resources available to parents.
He said: “Schools and early years settings are social spaces and the opportunities for children to mix in close proximity with others are huge and inevitable.
“Our ability to restrict this social contact is nigh impossible given the social nature of the humans and the way school environments are set up.
“Teachers are providing excellent regular on-line teaching and resources for children of all ages and keeping continuity of learning going well.
“Many educational organisations support parents and home learning through on-line learning platforms.
“This is a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity
“It would be disastrous for schools to open again too early. Lives are at risk here.”
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