The Devastating Consequences of Closing Schools: A Passionate Look at the Decision-Making Process during the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is an absolute outrage! Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock pushed to have schools closed in January 2021, putting the education and wellbeing of our children at risk. He got his way with ministers making a U-turn on their initial decision to keep schools open, but was it the right call?

At the time, rates of Covid infection were rising, driven by the new Alpha variant, and scientific advisers were torn. However, some of the scientists most closely involved in the modelling had suggested keeping primary schools open. The evidence at the time suggested younger children were less likely to transmit the virus and would find remote learning more challenging.

But despite this, the decision was made to close schools, and the impact on our children was devastating. The pandemic had an impact on children’s education, with 59% of England’s pupils meeting the expected standards in reading, writing, and maths in Year 6 SATs tests, down from 65% in 2019.

The closure of schools also had social and emotional impacts, with a 77% rise in the number of children needing specialist treatment for severe mental health crisis and the number of five and six-year-olds needing speech and language support at school rising by 10%.

The government advisory body Sage had made it clear that its modelling suggested if schools were to stay open, it would be difficult to curb the rise in infections. But why didn’t the government take into account human behavior? With infection rates rising over Christmas, the public had already started to curb their mixing even ahead of what became the third national lockdown in the first week of January 2021.

Other countries managed to keep their schools open, such as Sweden, which kept primary school and younger secondary school pupils in class throughout. So why couldn’t we do the same? The government could have kept schools open in January 2021 and accepted there was a greater risk of the virus spreading, safe in the knowledge that children were at low risk of severe illness.

It’s clear that the decision to close schools had huge consequences for our children. The government could have done more to keep schools open, at least for some age groups. The cost to pupils has been significant, and it’s time for the government to take responsibility for their actions and make amends. Our children deserve better.

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