COVID-19 AND IT’S EFFECTS ON MENTAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION IN THE UK- part 7 of 8
7-Education Part 3
GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS ON RETURNING TO SCHOOL- PM STATEMENT AND CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER STATEMENT
On returning to school- Boris Johnson’s statement and the Chief Medical Officers’ report
23rd August 2020 https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-britain-education/johnson-says-failure-to-reopen-schools-not-an-option-sunday-telegraph-idUKKBN25J05V
(Reuters) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told allies that “failure to reopen schools is not an option”, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
These are strong words for a government in a position of uncertainty. I hope he can deliver with minimal consequences, but this remains to be seen.
Earlier this month, Johnson said reopening schools in September was a social, economic and moral imperative, insisting schools would be able to operate safely despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is clear that the government sees education as a priority and wants to open schools. The government has the clearly listened to the studies that recommend that schools reopen to all students ASAP to start the recovery process. Another, more cynical view is that they are keen to reopen schools to free up working parents and strengthen both the workforce and economy. My reasoning here is that mental health provision is a social and moral imperative too but it fell by the wayside, yet economic imperatives do not.
The Sunday Times reported this month that Johnson had ordered a public relations campaign to ensure schools open on time.
My view here is that he wouldn’t need a PR campaign if his communications had been clear from the start of the pandemic, allowing people to trust him more. There have been far too many U-turns and contradictions (face masks, exams and free school meals being memorable ones). The proposed measure of making attendance mandatory would force people to comply when they may not be entirely comfortable, which is surely amoral.
He must realise that not all parents and families feel the same and some have concerns that have not been addressed. Uncertainty in general makes us fearful and hesitant. While it’s important to carry on as much as is possible, this will vary depending on individual circumstances. I know in our family’s case, my brother preferred being at home and is anxious about going back, so we’re preparing gradually. It is hoped that Johnson’s future decisions will be made with more empathy, lest his legacy be negative.
Before making the announcement of schools reopening, Johnson wisely sought the opinions of his Chief Medical Officers. The following are extracts from the statement they made, which weighs up the perceived risks of reopening against the downsides of remaining closed and examines the risks posed to students, staff and society as a whole. There is a clear consensus of needing to reopen despite the risks.. We can only hope that they are correct that the risk is low and the measures in place will be enough. There will be an increased need to react quickly and thoughtfully to local or national spikes in cases, which so far have not been handled in the best way for the local people. They may be safe but they are not happy. Perhaps this policy requires a review if Johnson is to claim that he is doing it for their well-being.
The full statement is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/statement-from-the-uk-chief-medical-officers-on-schools-and-childcare-reopening
Statement from the UK Chief Medical Officers on schools and childcare reopening
Statement from the Chief Medical Officers and Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on the evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening.
Published 23 August 2020
This is a consensus statement from the Chief Medical Officers and Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on the current evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening.
It takes into account UK and international studies, and summaries of the scientific literature from SAGE, the DELVE Group of the Royal Society, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and data from the Office for National Statistics.
The current global pandemic means that there are no risk-free options, but it is important that parents and teachers understand the balance of risks to achieve the best course of action for their children.
We are confident that multiple sources of evidence show that a lack of schooling increases inequalities, reduces the life chances of children and can exacerbate physical and mental health issues. School improves health, learning, socialisation and opportunities throughout the life course including employment. It has not been possible to reduce societal inequalities through the provision of home-based education alone. School attendance is very important for children and young people.
We are confident in the extensive evidence that there is an exceptionally small risk of children of primary or secondary school age dying from COVID-19. The infection fatality rate (proportion of those who are infected who die) for those aged 5 to 14 is estimated at 14 per million, lower than for most seasonal flu infections. Every death of a child is a tragedy but COVID-19 deaths in children and teenagers are fortunately extremely rare and almost all deaths are in children with significant pre-existing health conditions.
We are confident that there is clear evidence of a very low rate of severe disease in children of primary and secondary school ages compared to adults, even if they catch COVID-19. The percentage of symptomatic cases requiring hospitalisation is estimated to be 0.1% for children aged 0 to 9 and 0.3% among those aged 10 to 19, compared to a hospitalisation rate of over 4% in the UK for the general population. Most of these children make a rapid recovery.
Transmission of COVID-19 to children in schools does occur. On current evidence it is probably not a common route of transmission. It may be lower in primary age children than secondary age children.
Control measures such as hand and surface hygiene, cohorting to reduce number of daily contacts, and directional controls to reduce face-to-face contact remain key elements of maintaining COVID-19 secure school environments and minimising risk
Our overall consensus is that, compared to adults, children may have a lower risk of catching COVID-19 (lowest in younger children), definitely have a much lower rate of hospitalisation and severe disease, and an exceptionally low risk of dying from COVID-19. Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely to attending school. This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school.
Teachers, other school staff and parents
Data from the UK (Office for National Statistics (ONS)) suggest teachers are not at increased risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to the general working-age population. ONS data identifies teaching as a lower risk profession (no profession is zero risk). International data support this.
Transmission of COVID-19 to staff members in school does occur, and data from UK and international studies suggest it may largely be staff to staff (like other workplaces) rather than pupil to staff. This reinforces the need to maintain social distancing and good infection control inside and outside classroom settings, particularly between staff members and between older children and adults.
Children and young people should be engaged in the process of establishing COVID-19 secure measures as key participants and promoters of safe communities to help protect their wider families, teachers and other school staff and other social networks. This will help reduce the risk of school outbreaks.
Impact of opening schools on wider transmission (R)
Because schools connect households it is likely opening schools will put some upward pressure on transmission more widely and therefore increase R. We have confidence in the current evidence that schools are much less important in the transmission of COVID-19 than for influenza or some other respiratory infections. Other work and social environments also increase risk and are likely to be more important for transmission of COVID-19.
The international real-world evidence suggests that reopening of schools has usually not been followed by a surge of COVID-19 in a timescale that implies schools are the principal reason for the surge. There has, however, not been sufficient time to say this with confidence.
On the other hand, a local or national surge in transmission in the community may lead to an increased risk of school outbreaks occurring.
Early identification and quickly managing outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools is essential as part of a local response to COVID-19. Clear advice for pupils and staff not to attend school with symptoms, and prompt availability of testing, appropriate isolation advice, and careful public health surveillance and monitoring of educational establishments are key to support the safe return to schools.
HUFFPOST ARTICLE 1ST SEPT- EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITIES
46% increase in education gap after lockdown- Huffpost’s analysis of a Guardian article, 1st Sept 2020.
Students all across the UK returned to school in late August and early September. Studies done during lockdown concluded that remote learning had largely been detrimental and widened pre-existing inequalities in attainment. Just how wide is the gap? This Huffpost article from 1st September (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/rich-poor-students-learning-gap-widens_uk_5f4de5dfc5b64f17e14224c2) has the answers.
The learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers has increased by 46%, a new survey has found.
The poll of nearly 3,000 school leaders and teachers added the figure likely to be an “under-estimate”.
Teachers estimated on average that their pupils were three months behind in their studies, the survey said.
So, inequalities have increased greatly, and students are very behind in their learning. But a deeper look reveals that this is merely an average figure and there are several factors at play in how behind individual societal groups are. The biggest factor is wealth.
However, more than half (53%) of those teaching in the poorest schools in England reported their students were “four months or more” behind in their learning, compared to 15% of teachers in wealthier settings, PA Media reports.
The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) survey comes as many students return to classrooms this week for the first time since lockdown.
The majority of pupils had been expected to learn at home throughout the 2019/20 summer term, but teachers reported that only 38% returned their last piece of set work in July, compared to 42% in May.
Students then were less motivated to complete work as lockdown went on. An explanation I can suggest for this is that students realised they were not going back in the current academic year so saw less reason to complete their work. I know that my family and many families local to me felt less motivated as it got to the second half of the remote learning due to that. It is difficult to feel motivated when the reason is not tangible or feels distant in location or time. All these factors were at play here.
School leaders said that just over half (56%) of students who were eligible to return did so, with those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds having lower attendance at 49%. Not everyone felt comfortable returning and ethnicity was a factor in this. Their personal reasons are unknown, but I can suggest not feeling safe, language or other understanding barriers, lack of motivation, or education being less of a priority due to extenuating circumstances. While the government threatened fines, I feel it is important to be understanding and realise that not everyone may be able to return.
Dr Angela Donkin, chief social scientist at NFER, said: “Whilst it is crucial that children catch up, we should not assume that teachers will immediately be able to deliver the same quality of teaching, at the same speed, as before the pandemic.
“There remains a range of barriers for teachers and schools, which means catch-up should be seen as part of the ongoing process of learning recovery, for most pupils, rather than as a quick-turnaround solution.”
She said it was “clear” that additional support needed to be targeted at disadvantaged pupils and schools in the poorest areas.
Teachers estimated that 44% of their pupils will need “intensive catch-up support”, the survey said, with the percentage increasing to 57% in the most deprived schools.
NFER’s list of recommendations included the need for schools to receive further support to manage pupil non-attendance and more money to help with managing coronavirus safety measures.
The Department for Education said its £1 billion “Covid catch-up package” will tackle the impact of lost teaching time and include “targeted funding” for the most disadvantaged students.
This is very important to realise. Schools and students can’t be expected to launch into some intensive programme when they’ve spent so much time away. Adjustment time is necessary. Students will need support to catch up and this will almost certainly stretch pastoral teams. In order for all students to be given support, the catch-up fund should be distributed based on the school’s circumstances- how much disadvantage and how prepared is the school to handle it?
The final comments in the article sum up the situation. The government sees returning to school as a priority, but it must see fixing the wider issue of inequality as equally important. The government must equip schools to handle wellbeing as well as teaching and also reflect on the implications for society as a whole.
Shadow education Secretary Kate Green said: “The learning that children have lost in recent months shows that keeping schools safely open to all must be a national priority in the months ahead.
“When schools are closed, we see deep inequalities become more entrenched, and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds lose out most.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “This is another alarm bell that the Government needs to pay attention to.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted education for the majority of children, and schools were already struggling to provide everything children needed before this crisis, damaged as they and other social services have been by a decade of austerity.”
Whiteman said schools will “absolutely require” additional support to “play their part in healing the scars” left by the pandemic.