School closures and further lockdown

NCB urges the Government to provide the resources and clarity required to limit the short- and long-term damage to children from the closure of education settings and ongoing lockdown.

Following the momentous decision to close mainstream schools for a second time to all but the children of critical workers and those classed as ‘vulnerable’, NCB now urges the Government to provide the resources and the clarity required to limit the damage to children.

More of the same muddled decision-making will exacerbate an already disastrous situation for children, young people, their parents and carers.  There must be a fundamental re-think of what support this generation of children and young people need, and we must start by listening to them.

Urgent issues

Identifying the right approach for the return to school should have been settled long ago, and at the very latest during the Christmas break, through Government actively engaging unions, head teachers and local authorities to work together in the best interests of children.

It should have been informed by an understanding of what children and parents are saying is right for them. This clearly did not happen. But now we know that schools will be closed until at least February half-term, there is an opportunity to get this right by addressing the following urgent issues:

  • All children must have access to digital learning suitable to their needs, which includes WiFi and appropriate devices.
  • Children attending school during lockdown need an education not just childcare and that means schools that remain open need proper staffing and resourcing.
  • There must be a clear plan for replacing cancelled exams to assure children and their families this will not adversely affect their future prospects.
  • Viable mass testing and tracing must be in place in time for school reopening.
  • Early years and school staff must be in the priority group for vaccination.
  • Ensure availability of nursing, therapy, mental health, social care and family support services.

The wider social catastrophe enveloping children and young people must not be obscured.

There are even bigger issues at stake as we enter further national lockdowns.  

Poverty destroys childhoods and families, and causes irreparable damage to our society’s future health and productivity. Yet, despite interventions from the Government, it is clear the pandemic will push many more children and young people into this situation. As well as leading to an overall increase in the number of children being held back by poverty, there is powerful evidence that the pandemic is leading to even greater hardship for those who were already living in poverty.

A decade of austerity led to public services that were at breaking point before the pandemic struck, poorly prepared to absorb its impact. Now, successive lockdowns are having a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of professionals, while simultaneously increasing demand for services that were already struggling.

In particular, we believe the threat to mental health is now as serious a threat to the health of society as the pandemic itself. The huge scale of severe psychological distress was evident before the pandemic, but rising poverty, uncertainty about the future, bereavement and the absence of services like youth clubs and family support are creating an unbearable environment for far too many of our children, young people, their families and the people that support them.

Conclusion

The Government must take immediate action to ensure that:

  • All children have access to a device and to WiFi so that they have the same opportunity to receive online education. There must be evidence that this the case.
  • All children who are attending school through lockdown are receiving an education not just childcare.
  • Children most at risk are identified and reached by services that can support them.

In the longer term, the Government must:

  • Establish a plan for our children and young people that addresses the short-term crisis and their long-term recovery, covering education, social care, health and wellbeing and use the Comprehensive Spending Review to invest in their future.
  • Listen to children and young people and set out the action Government will take in response to pave the way for their return to education.
  • Clearly communicate transparent criteria for determining whether schools can re-open safely.