As the school debate turns political, it is useful to look at UKs independent voice defending children

It is quite interesting comparing coverage in the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian today on the topic of the re-opening of the schools in the United Kingdom amidst the pandemic.

As this is a topic that interests me, I wanted to look at touch a little deeper into this, and what started as a facebook post, became a little more meaty. Perhaps it helps others:

Whilst the Sunday Telegraph puts down worries about the re-opening of schools to amongst others mere hysteria, depicting graphs that make it look, as if there is hardly any risks (even though on the basis of the same data and figures, quarantines have been put in place by the government on travelers from foreign countries, when infections in any country exceed 20/100.000), the Guardian spells out, not the least through the words of Keir Starmer, Gavin Williamson’s errors. It quotes Paul Whiteman, the General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers and Geoff Barton, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, that there appear to be no plans or plan-Bs in existence, for what should happen, if a teacher or child has contacted Covid-19. It quotes the joint statement by the four nations main medical advisors which says that on the one hand  international evidence does not suggest, that the school reopening is followed by a surge in infections” but that on the other hand, they also say that this could not be concluded with confidence.

Views on whether t send children back or not differ in accordance how economically well off and not well off parents (and guardians and carers), are, we read (Guardian). The economically better off are more in favour of children’s return to school. This data, taken from an Institute of Fiscal Studies Report ( on behalf of the the Nuffield Foundation), states that “parents are reluctant to send their children back is the perceived health risk to their child, followed by health risks to other family members.” However, that report does not address the cause of that difference. Reasons could include, one would assume, possibly, wanting the kids back to school, in order to allow parents to return to work, and the quality of information people are exposed to and what information one trusts. It comes to no surprise that the U-turn regarding the grading of the British A-Levels diminished the credibility of the information coming from the British government.

Many, not just in the Telegraph or Guardian, mention the overall lower risk Covid-19 poses to children. Only a small minority of children suffered greatly after contracting Covid-19, and some of those died. Compared to that, it is clear that the effect on staying at home in terms of mental health and the rise in disparity and disadvantage to children is quite pronounced. Not so much attention, goes by the way to the children’s contacts, like parents and grand-parents: Some of these will be in risk groups: For example, 8.5% of Brits have Asthma, 5% (approx) have Diabetes and 4.7% of Brits have pulmonary chronic obstructive conditions (Source). Some children also have these conditions, and are exceptionally vulnerable. BAME Covid-19 higher statistics are mentioned in the Guardian as an additional factor in all of this, that schools and government must also consider when re-opening the schools.

At the end of the day, a less biased view can be found in the report of Anne Longfield, the UK Children Commissioner:

This report states that when it comes to the flu, children may be super-spreaders, but it is different with Covid-19. The spread of infection with the coronavirus, when schools are open, goes usually not from children to adults, but more likely from adults (exposed at work, or elsewhere) to children. Children have also less community exposure (the amount of settings one can contract the virus from) and the the youngest have the least. The British Children’s Commissioner answers the point that is apparently missing from the government at the moment, by stating clearly what should happen, if the spread of the virus increases in an area or affects a school. She argues that “priority children” (amongst them those of parents, carers or guardians who work in essential services) and some others (e.g. poorest, looked after, etc…) should still have school. Priority here would run in accordance to age, the youngest having the greatest need, followed by other age groups.

Those who have national key examinations forthcoming, such as GCSE, A-Levels, are also to be prioritised. Interestingly, the British government has had a similar policy in place during the lockdown, when schools were open for key workers, , but it appears that this has not been part of the planning for the re-opening of schools. Longfield also argues that schools must take priority over all other openings from the lock down. Keeping infections down is a challenge for the entire community, and not just a school obligation, she argues, though she sees a good testing regime in schools as part of what needs to be set in place, in particular in order to distinguish between Covid-19 and the flu :

“Regular, widespread testing and tracing for both pupils and teachers is essential for keeping schools
safe; providing assurance that they are safe; and preventing entire ‘bubbles’ or year groups from having
to be sent home after a case of Covid-19 is confirmed. This will be particularly important in the 2020/21
winter flu season when clusters of flu could be mistaken for a Covid-19 outbreak and result in
unnecessary closure or interruption. The recent Lancet study by Viner et al.13 provides useful estimates
of the improvements in test and trace effectiveness that should be sought over the summer holidays, in
order to ensure that a full reopening of schools from September onwards is safe and successful.
Continuing to improve our understanding of how the virus is transmitted will allow better, more
targeted use of restrictive measures and minimise costly disruption to children’s lives. Results of testing
on teachers and students should be pooled with attendance data to model risks of transmission and
test effective strategies for minimising risk. Any outbreak in a school should be thoroughly investigated
so that potential links in the chain of transmission can be pre-emptively broken in future.”