Is it safe to send the kids back to school?

The back to school discussion seems to be heating up and there is a lot to weigh up, particularly for families with underlying health issues. Trust is crucial.

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The back to school discussions are heating up. On the one hand is the idea that it is perfectly safe to send your kids back to school because they won’t get sick and won’t spread the virus and that any risks there are are outweighed by those associated with children not going to school. Plus the economy needs parents to work and parents need to earn. Clearly, going to school is important for kids and society generally.

The Government says the research shows almost zero risk for children, but the truth is that while that seems to be the case for younger children, it is not clear this is the case for older secondary school pupils. A new report out soon and trailed this week from Public Health England seems to suggest that older secondary school pupils are as likely to spread the virus as adults.

Who or what should parents believe? It comes down to trust, which boils down to not manipulating the truth, being consistent, explaining where there are gaps in knowledge and not seeking to play down legitimate concerns or blame teachers, unions or parents if they have questions.  This is particularly the case for families where there are underlying health issues.

People have to be reassured that there is an adequate test and trace system. Knowing where the virus is is crucial, as is being able to respond at speed to local increases. Should testing or temperature checks be imposed on students? Should masks be worn when children are moving around school? Will bubbles and zones work when children are untested and may be asymptomatic? Should more resources have been put into schools to increase available teaching space and teacher numbers to enable more social distancing? These are all legitimate questions and, even if nothing can be done about them, they at least need an answer. It’s not just about what happens in schools either. Kids can travel large distances to school on public transport – at least half the pupils at my daughter’s school come by tube, bus or train. The fines for not wearing masks are going up, but will they be enforced? We need an honest conversation about risk for when infection rates start rising again.

Everyone is aware that the status quo of lockdown has brought huge and long-term education problems and put a lot of pressure on parents, to the point that many have lost their jobs. It cannot continue, but this next phase is not going to be easy and will rely on trust and respect. Where this can often be seen is at a local level, particularly at schools themselves. It needs to be replicated at the national level.



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