The response of schools to coronavirus
Joanna Williams, July 2020
In response to coronavirus, schools closed to all but the children of key workers on 20 March 2020. The majority of children did not return before the end of the academic year, meaning they will have spent over five months out of the classroom. Schools remained closed to most pupils for such a long time because of government social distancing requirements and the teaching unions’ insistence that the health of all teachers should be guaranteed. At this stage, it is still not clear whether schools will open to all pupils, full time, come September.
In this report, Joanna Williams argues that children and young people do not appear to be severely affected by coronavirus. There is little evidence that children play a role in transmitting the virus to adults. However, children have missed out on education and socialisation. It is vital therefore that children are able to return to normal as soon as possible so as to make up for lost opportunities. If some children return to academic teaching, while those from more deprived backgrounds are given a reduced curriculum combined with therapeutic interventions, educational inequality will be exacerbated further. Repeatedly telling children they will develop mental health problems may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The author offers a series of recommendations, including for government to drop all requirements for children to practice social distancing with immediate effect. Places such as playgrounds, swimming pools and leisure centres should be reopened for children as a matter of urgency and they should provide free entry for children throughout the summer months.
Joanna Williams concludes that all schools should reopen fully, to all pupils from the start of the new academic year, with no social distancing in place. The report recommends that any narrowing of the curriculum to focus on only core subjects should take place for as short a period as necessary. Schools should aim to have all children ready to be taught the full curriculum by January 2021. From September, there needs to be an immediate focus on bringing all children up to speed with missing subject knowledge as quickly as possible.