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‘Schools should reopen fully’ in September – government must ‘drop all requirements for children to practice social distancing with immediate effect’, says think-tank report

Given the expectation for school reopening plans in England to be unveiled by the government this week, the government should ‘drop all requirements for children to practice social distancing with immediate effect’, urges a new Civitas report.

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.

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:

  1. “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. As such, government needs to drop all requirements for children to practice social distancing with immediate effect.”
  2. “Playgrounds, swimming pools and leisure centres should be reopened as a matter of urgency for children and they should provide free entry for children throughout the summer months.”
  3. “All schools should reopen fully, to all pupils from the start of the new academic year, with no social distancing in place.”
  4. “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.”
  5. “Classroom preparation, be it cleaning or rearranging desks, should take place in the remaining weeks of this academic year or over the summer holidays.”
  6. “From September, there needs to be an immediate focus on bringing all children up to speed with missing subject knowledge as quickly as possible. Time could be taken from PSHE lessons; an extra 45 minutes could be added to the school day for the next academic year; five teacher training days could be dropped, and each school holiday could be shortened by one day. In addition, teachers may need to adopt a more didactic pedagogic style.”
  7. “Where there are concerns about friendships, some of this extra time could be added to breaks and lunch in order to allow children to play.”

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.

The report questions “…whether the well-meaning concern of many head teachers and educationalists and union leaders over the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health may have inadvertently had counter-productive consequences.”

Schools are the only institutions in society that are specifically tasked with the goal of education and as the report specifies, “The inability of anyone to articulate the case for education meant that union representatives, politicians and some headteachers were free to argue that schools should remain closed to the majority of pupils.”

The report concludes, “Longer term, in order to avoid schools being closed down so easily in the future, it is necessary to make the case for schools as institutions uniquely concerned with education. The importance of education as an end in itself needs to be made anew.”


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