Pros and cons of children going back to school

The COVID-19 coronavirus has stimulated much debate on the right courses of action to limit its spread through social distancing. The discussion considers the impacts on the economy and the education of our children.

From 1st June, the government is re-opening certain year groups at schools. This has heated up the debate on the pros and cons of sending children back to school.

Will my child need to return to school on 1st June?

Before we take a look at the pros and cons of children returning to school, we should clarify which children are recommended to return to school. The government’s position is to get the children who will benefit the most back to school while limiting the number of children returning.

The government strongly encourages children to return unless they are self-isolating or shielding due to health concerns. Children living with someone who is exceptionally clinically vulnerable should not return at this time.

The proposed ages of children returning to school are:

  • Year 1
  • Year 6
  • Reception children in primary schools

Further to this, secondary schools, further education colleges, and sixth forms will provide some face-to-face support for pupils in year ten and year 12. Educational nurseries, early year providers, and childminders will also resume their services.

Three crucial points for parents to be aware of are:

  • You will not be forced to send your children back to school
  • Parents will not be fined if their children do not attend school
  • Parents must notify the school, in the usual way, if they are not sending their child to school

The government’s proposals for opening schools can be found here.

The pro and cons of sending the youngest children back to school first

Many parents are debating why the government is instructing the youngest children to return to school first. Parents argue that young children will be the least likely to follow the social distancing rules and let’s face it, who can stop children putting things in their mouth?

The counter-argument is that the youngest children have the most to gain. At this young age, kids soak up new skills at an accelerated pace. Missing out on schooling at a young age will have a long-lasting impact on their education outcome and future prospects. It is also harder to replace face to face teaching with the youngest children, through options such as remote learning.

Further parental concerns include the lack of space in classrooms, dining halls, and playgrounds. However, the lack of space in classrooms has been somewhat tackled by the government, stating that classes should have no more than 15 pupils.

So, do you think we should send our youngest children back to school first?

Three things that parents are saying

Some parents are reporting that their children have been extremely poorly after contracting COVID-19. Quite understandably, parents reading this will be very upset about exposing their children to more people, including other children and teachers.

Why are we sending children back to school if it is not safe enough for the House of Commons to return?

Some parents do not want their children entering an environment that has two-metre spacing using tape etc. These parents are worried about how this will affect their children’s state of mind.

Is the decision to reopen schools really for the benefit of parents?

The decision to allow some children back to school could be aimed more at benefiting the parents. If children go back to school, it will make it easier for parents to return to work. Rather than the new measures focusing on getting children back into education, it could be more to help relieve the pressure on families. Financial pressure and time constraints are frequent discussions among parents during the lockdown.

Having to juggle the roles of home keeper, worker, and home-school teacher leaves parents with limited time. The pressure to fit everything in makes many people feeling there are not enough hours in the day. It puts an incredible strain on the family.

Of course, economic recovery will also be affected, as some parents can return to work. Family incomes returning to normal will help ease the financial burdens caused by the current lockdown. As more people return to work, the UK economic recovery will also begin.

The government understands that you will have concerns about sending your children back to school. Guidelines state that parents will not be subject to fines if they don’t send their kids to school. You have a choice; you have to weigh up the risks for your family.

Evidence suggests that infant school is beneficial to the knowledge, mental well-being, and skills in child development. Of course, the current situation is unprecedented, so you have the choice as to what you think is best for your children.

The mental health effects on parents, children, and teachers

The mental health implications of the coronavirus lockdown are far-reaching. Children, parents, and teachers are all experiencing effects from the current situation. Children may be feeling anxious because of the significant changes to their routine and lack of contact with their friends.

Parents are under immense pressure to handle everything with the usual work and home life duties to now handling homeschooling. Teachers are also facing considerable challenges in finding ways to stay connected to students while also having to manage the other knock-on effects of the lockdown in their own lives.

As schools reopen, mental health and wellbeing will have to be a focus for everyone involved. Children will be facing uncertainty due to new measures in schools. Teachers will have to implement these measures while also handling the anxieties of their students. Parents will have challenging times ahead as their children return to school. Access to support services for parents, kids, and teachers will be essential as the lockdown measures are eased.

Fears of transmitting COVID-19 within schools: The evidence

We finish our debate by looking at some of the scientific evidence for transmitting the coronavirus within schools. Although, don’t expect a definitive answer or clearer picture, because different studies have come to different conclusions.

The closing of schools is a tried and tested method of dealing with flu outbreaks. Children have many possible opportunities to contract an infection due to the high amount of social contacts. Due to this, they usually have a higher rate of contracting the disease and have the potential to become “superspreaders.”

COVID-19 seems to be different from previous influenza outbreaks. Even though comprehensive research is not complete, it seems children do not have the same role in spreading the coronavirus as they would in a flu outbreak.

According to experts, the significant difference with this outbreak is that children seem to be less susceptible to coronavirus. In a study of 13,000 people in Iceland, tests found that none of the children under ten involved in the study tested positive for coronavirus. Over 800 children under 10 formed part of the randomly selected group, and all were negative for the virus.

A more extensive study in Vo’ in Italy tested 86 percent of the town’s population. No cases of coronavirus were found in children under the age of 10, despite the overall test population having an infection rate of 2.6 percent. There were no positive tests in children aged 10 or under even in those living with adults that had the virus.

While this is encouraging news, other research suggests children may be just as susceptible to the coronavirus as adults. Scientific studies have shown that children tend to have far milder symptoms when they contract COVID-19. However, the children have the same levels of the virus circulating within their bodies as adults. This means that children could be just as infectious as adults.

Scientists are urging caution as these studies don’t allow us to understand the role children play in transmitting the infection entirely.

Questions are being raised about other effects COVID-19 has on children with the possible triggering of other issues. A small number of cases in London and New York have indicated a syndrome that causes inflammation in multiple organs of the body in children with the virus.

So far, it does not look like children play a significant role in spreading coronavirus as they do not make up a large proportion of the infected population. If this is the case, they are unlikely to be considered superspreaders.

The effectiveness of school closures in controlling the spread is still heavily debated. According to some modeling studies, the school closures for COVID-19 may only reduce the death rate by 2 to 4 percent. That rate is much lower than the impact other social distancing measures are having on the spread of coronavirus.

One of the most important points to remember that whatever your opinion on this matter we all need to be kind.

Some people may not want their children to return to school and that’s ok. Some may be welcoming the decision and that’s ok too.

Whatever your viewpoint it’s important that as parents, carers and teachers unite to steer the children through this difficult time without judgement and ridicule for the decisions made. Working together will not only have a positive impact on the mental health of the child but everyone else involved.

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This can include searching for, and sourcing childcare from birth onward and helping search for education from nursery, through primary/prep and onto senior school.

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