Reopening schools should be priority, experts say
A quarter of the workforce could have lower skills by 2030, impacting the economy for decades to come unless schools reopen after summer, according to a report.
Returning children to education and keeping schools open during the Covid-19 pandemic should be prioritised by the UK Government to ensure pupils’ wellbeing and future job prospects, the Royal Society report has found.
The authors – including researchersfrom Edinburgh – call on the Government to suppress the spread of coronavirus in the wider community as a priority to lower the risk of transmission in schools and reduce disruptions to learning.
The report – written by the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics group of experts from across the UK – highlights the potential impact of school closures on 13 year groups of students who have been affected by the lockdown.
Experts estimate that without action, around a quarter of the workforce will have lower skills from the mid-2030s and for 50 years following. This could reduce earning potential by three per cent a year and lower the UK economic growth rate.
As well as long-term effects, school closures also have an immediate negative impact on children’s health and safety, and increase inequality, the academics say.
The report concludes that the risk of restarting schools is not as high as many other activities, based on data from other countries, although the authors caution that the evidence is still limited.
The authors suggest that when coronavirus infection rates rise, some schools may need to close, but that such decisions should be made on a local basis.
The Government should provide guidance and extra resources to ensure schools can minimise chains of transmission, including parental guidance, PPE for teachers, and rigorous hygiene.
The report calls for a system to increase our understanding of the risks and provide decision makers with local and timely data to monitor neighbourhood and school infection rates and to respond accordingly.
Based on our assessments, we believe that the risk from re-opening schools is far less that of the long-term damage from them remaining shut. Closing schools impacts children’s mental and physical health and increases inequalities across both educational achievement and long-term prospects. Keeping schools open is the key to unlocking the rest of the economy, allowing parents return to their own jobs. However, for schools to be safe to open and further reduce risk, community transmission must be controlled. Therefore there needs to be a robust test, trace and isolate system in place, clear criteria for local decision making, and extra resources for schools. Re-opening schools should become a primary objective for government to allow society to open again.
Shutting down schools has impacted all children but the worst effects will be felt by those from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition. Children from low-income households in particular are more likely to lack the resources (space, equipment, home support) to engage fully with remote schooling. Those with pre-existing conditions are more likely to experience a worsening of their mental health. This has to be taken into account in how we come out of this pandemic.
The Edinburgh researchers involved in the report are Dr Ines Hassan, Professor Evropi Theodoratou and Dr Gwenetta Curry from the Usher Institute.
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