Words By Dexter Clark
There’s a reason why education is one of the most funded bodies in the public sphere and that is due to it being integral to our society. Here I state why schools should re-open despite COVID-19, due to them being crucial to children’s health, well-being, and education, whilst also being beneficial to the parents of those children. If we do not open schools we could be seeing the negative effects of this for many years to come.
Schools are now closed at least until the end of March, and this will have an overall negative effect. Although the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks must be taken into consideration, school outbreaks have not been a prominent pattern of the pandemic, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and control, transmissions here have not been integral to the pandemic spreading. Children who catch the virus very rarely develop more than a mild case. 5-17 year olds were 9 times less likely to be hospitalised than 18-29 year olds, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, the Office for National statistics stated that the hospitalisation rate of children aged 5-14 was the lowest in all groups at only 0.6 per 100,000.
I do not believe that schools should reopen solely due to this, but rather the huge amount of benefits pupils get from attending – which I believe outweigh the risks. Schools provide high quality education from professionals and it is easier to teach in the classroom rather than over the internet. Additionally, it is not fair on parents who now have to home-school, they may have no expertise in teaching while having to balance it with their own work life. Education may be completely absent to poorer children who have no access to the internet or a computer. Ofcom has estimated that between 1.14 Million and 1.78 Million children had no home access to the internet or a computer in August 2018. This leaves thousands of children without any access to online education. Can we really continue to leave primarily disadvantaged children without their necessary education?
There is a wealth gap clearly present, as BBC report that richer families are spending 30% more time on learning at home than poorer families. We cannot allow for there to be inequalities like this in education, as these will lead to inequalities later in life. If we reopened schools, children would also have access to the Child Welfare services provided by the people who work there. We all saw the awful food packages provided by Chartwell, which did not even achieve the bare minimum of food to provide children’s lunches for a week. If these children were still going into school, they would be guaranteed at least one good, free meal a day, instead of having to ration the frankly inadequate packages. Free school meals provide disadvantaged children with a safe and substantial meal, and without schools being open they would not be able to use this service.
School meals are not the only form of child welfare that schools provide to pupils attending. Children going to school are being placed in a safe environment, where the people who work with them have been trained to spot abuse. By leaving their house and interacting with teachers, victims of child abuse are far more likely to be identified and helped. The Department of Education state that Child Welfare is the responsibility of everyone who works in schools, therefore children in school will be safeguarded and easier to identify as needing help.
Children’s mental health is also important when considering reopening schools. Research from NHS Digital showed that 54% of children with a mental disorder had felt worse since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. These numbers could perhaps be crunched, with access to support from schools such as school counsellors, while also allowing pupils to interact with other children.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear threat to public health, and I’m not trying to downplay the severity of the problem. However, stopping children from having quality and equal education is going to affect our society, not just now, but in the long run. Schools need to re-open to treat these issues, as well as provide child welfare and improve their mental health. Otherwise, the full effects of this could be detrimental to their future.
Words By Megan Stratford
I have been working as a teacher for the last 18 months in a school that has not closed during the pandemic. Navigating the pandemic whilst working in a school has been a new challenge and one that has been incredibly difficult for those involved. The following points are my reasons for why I believe that schools should not reopen.
If schools reopen, there is an increasingly likely chance that at some point they will have to close again due to rising case rates. This is incredibly disruptive to students’ education and their routines as they get used to learning from home, then being back at school, then at home, and so begins an endless cycle where they struggle to cope. This becomes far more detrimental to them than keeping them home-schooled for a substantial amount of time because pieces of work get interrupted and it is routed in anxiety.
Students expect school to be a happy place, one where they can play with their friends and learn in a safe environment. Some of the children that I teach have hearing difficulties, and wearing a mask around them can be detrimental to their learning. If I am teaching online I do not have to wear a mask and they can at least see me properly, and I can smile.
It doesn’t matter how many times that we clean the desks and equipment, it is impossible to control in a school with many students in what items are being touched and whether things are being cleaned appropriately. It does not matter how many masks are worn and how many antibacterial wipes have been used, the virus can be passed through those who are asymptomatic, which is incredibly common in children. There is not enough PPE to go around in schools, the government can sometimes barely give the NHS the equipment they need, let alone schools.
Social distancing poses a huge problem in schools. Firstly, school buildings have not been built to facilitate the distancing of students and staff. I teach in an ICT classroom and there are not enough computers or space for students to sit with one empty computer between them which results in the risk being higher.
Social distancing is also not appropriate for young children, disabled children or those with special educational needs. Some of these children are not yet old enough or have the understanding to take part in social distancing. Forcing children to be apart when they are playing and socialising can cause anxious, unhappy and scared children. This also reverts back all the learning that pupils have done when it comes to teaching them to share. They are suddenly being told they can’t share their toy with their friend in case it makes them ill. For small children this is a sudden change that is confusing.
Staff wellbeing has not been considered by the government throughout any of the pandemic. Many staff have been highly anxious and have not been supported in their return to work. At the beginning of the year, UNISON wrote a letter to schools explaining that staff were able to use their contractual right to not attend an unsafe place of work. The letter stated that there had been 73,512 deaths in the UK, and within just a couple of weeks that figure had risen to over 100,000 suggesting that it is not yet time for schools to reopen, putting staff and students at risk.
SAGE released information in January explaining that schools should not open because scientific advice stated that it was not safe. The fact that the government pushed for schools to reopen says that they do not care about the safety of staff and students, and believe that an education is more important than remaining alive and well long enough to use that education.
Students, teachers, support staff and admin staff will die. The government in my opinion has not supported nor praised school staff for the hours they have put in during the pandemic. Schools reopening causes there to be far too much physical interaction: students walking to and from school together, teachers having to go to meetings with other staff members, admin staff who have to sit together in tiny offices with no option for distancing. Many teachers have already fallen ill due to the pandemic, how many more have to get ill or die before the government realises that education means nothing if the children have no teachers left?