I haven’t written on here about the Coronavirus situation, but I have been in healthy dialogue with peers on Facebook and Twitter. However, I want to address two issues in relation to children and the reopening of schools in September.
There is a lot of speculation in the media and online about two aspects of children returning to school. The first is educational, the other is about their mental health.
Whilst the educational impact of not being in school or a suitable educational environment conducive to learning is quite clear, the impact on mental health is far less clear cut.
Yesterday a study was reported in the BBC which had shown that anxiety in children had decreased markedly during the ‘long summer’ of school closures. Whilst many children were missing their daily interaction with school friends, many found ways around this. Some had social bubbles of school friend families. Others used outdoor social distanced socialising. Most had access to either telephone or internet communications. There is clear evidence that the way we do schooling and formal assessment is itself a threat to the mental health of children. The government urgently need to do something about this.
One big concern is that most state schools simply do not have the space for the social distancing measures required if an entire school is in attendance. Another issue is that school do act as an amplifier of the virus into the local communities. Two studies in April, albeit with slightly different aims and methodologies, both came to the conclusion that closing educational places had the single biggest impact on slowing the virus spread out of all the measures that we’re implemented.
There is no sure way of knowing what comes next. Other countries are showing mixed data which is not readily comparable to the UK situation. However, winter is a time when viruses spread the most and it should be noted that the main reason for this isn’t so much that people are indoors more, although that is a factor, it is the simple fact that children are back at school.
BBC Radio 4’s “Inside Science” programme this week (follow the link to listen on BBC Sounds) Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at Norwich Medical School, covered the data and risks associated with children going back to school in far more detail than this brief overview. On the programme, they, however, failed to note the report of the drop in anxiety levels during the lockdown period. This is an area that I am sure will attract much research in the coming months and years.
Professor Hunter also mentioned a very useful website for information and data about children and covid-19, covid.joinzoe.com.
I note that some will come back at me with, “well, what would YOU do?” or “could YOU do better?!” That’s not the point, and I don’t know because I am not in the position to have the information about what could be done. I just think that we all need to be abreast of the facts.