School children lost almost half an academic year to the pandemic
Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, said the disruption caused by the constant rule changes ‑ which led to British schools being closed for almost half of academic days in the past year ‑ must stop. The Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale West, urged the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to make sure his education department was calling the shots, rather than the Department of Health.
He said that while the country has largely returned to normal life, schools are still taking extreme measures to try to curb infectious diseases including routine testing, cancelling assemblies, sports fixtures, isolating, separating and segregating pupils, enforcing mask wearing and preventing pupils from “singing too loudly” in music lessons.
Sir Graham Brady said: “Nadhim Zahawi will be judged on how effectively he gets schools back to normal and ensures that children of all ages become, once again, a priority for our nation.
“We need to ensure that schools stay open through the winter and beyond, we need to make certain that proper, fair exams resume. We need to be clear that the education of our children isn’t an optional extra, it is at the core of a civilised society. If the new Secretary of State is to succeed, he must seize control of education policy, making sure that the Department of Health can advise but that he will decide.”
He also demanded safeguards to ensure children do not face discrimination or coercion over their covid vaccination following disturbing evidence that teachers were publicly singling out pupils who said they would refuse the jab during the mass 12-15-year old school rollout which begins next week.
Sir Graham added: “He [Nadhim Zahawi] needs to ensure that no child goes to school and faces coercion, discrimination or educational disruption because of legitimate choices made by the child or that child’s parents.
“I am optimistic. Nadhim, we are all depending on you to get our children’s lives back to normal.”
Children should not face discimination over their decision to be vaccinated or not
Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: “We need a clear steer from the Department for Education that children are not treated any differently regardless of their vaccination status. It has a responsibility to make sure no child is discriminated against in school.”
Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation member Adam Finn yesterday (Saturday September 18) warned of “aggression” between parents who wanted their kids vaccinated and those who did not.
The JCVI had advised against vaccinating all 12 to 15-year-olds, but this was overruled on the grounds that it would help the mental health of pupils by helping to prevent further lockdowns and school closures.
He told Times Radio: “I’ve had a lot of people contact me with very strong views.
“Either that they insist that they wish their children to be immunised without delay, or that they would rather die than have their children immunised, so there are plenty of people out there with very strong views, and those could easily translate into quite aggressive attitudes, one way, in one direction or the other.
“I think people should be tolerant of each other. Parents who have their children immunised should be tolerant of those that decide not to and vice versa because the stakes are not high on either side.”
Professor Finn said the decision on whether to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds is not black and white, adding that while it is not “essential” for them to have a coronavirus jab, it is also “perfectly sensible” for them to do so.
But he added that people should not become too “agonised” about it, adding: “Because the risks on either side are not that high. It’s not like these children are at great risk from Covid, or indeed that they’re at great risk from the vaccination.”
According to the government’s modelling the vaccine could help slow the spread of covid and could lead to 41 days of schooling saved per 1,000 children between October 2021 and March 2022.
An analysis by Professor David Paton, of Nottingham University, said this would only equate to an average of 14.76 minutes per child over this period. This could be offset by the time it takes to carry out the vaccination as well as the likelihood of missed school days due to any short term side effects.
Another argument made for restrictions in schools was the risk of long covid, which it was claimed could affect as many as ten percent of children who had been infected with the virus.
However last week a survey from the Office of National Statistics found long covid symptoms rarely persist beyond 12 weeks in children and adolescents, unlike adults. It found the rate of symptoms after 12 weeks among children was between 0 and 1.7 percent.
The parents campaign group UsforThem has a dossier of cases in which children have already been discriminated against because of pandemic policies.
This includes an 11-year-old girl who was not allowed to speak to her teacher for help because she was exempt from wearing a mask. She wrote a note which states: “I may not have gotten very far on this but that’s because I can’t ask you for help since I don’t wear a mask and we can’t talk. It’s okay though, I understand…. “
In another, children have been made to sit facing a wall because they are exempt from mask wearing or made to wear a yellow sticker to identify mask exemption.
Children have also been segregated from peers because they cannot do a lateral flow test, and other cases in which maskless teachers hand out detentions to children if they pull their masks down in class.
Next week UsforThem will launch a campaign to raise awareness about the ongoing disruption it is seeing in schools.
Director Arabella Skinner said: “Instead of being put first, children have been sacrificed in this pandemic and as a result have lost education, social, emotional and physical development.
“Now, while we watch the country return to normal life, school children are still being treated as second class citizens with continued testing, isolating, segregating and mask wearing. Too much damage has already happened. It has to stop.”
“Adults are living in Plan A, many children and their schools are already in Plan B, if not, Plan C. Funding a recovery programme to help children catch up and offering mental health support is vital, but wasted if you do not allow all children’s lives and schools to return to normality.”