Continued NI school closures an ‘over-reaction’ that is damaging children

The balance between the benefits and the risks to young people posed by the Covid-19 lockdown and social isolation should be urgently reassessed, a Belfast councillor and former GP has said.

By Mark Rainey
Monday, 15th June 2020, 5:03 pm
Updated Monday, 15th June 2020, 5:55 pm
Schools in Northern Ireland will remain closed until late August/September at the earliest
Schools in Northern Ireland will remain closed until late August/September at the earliest

Councillor John Kyle said an “over-reaction” has frightened parents – and led to a situation where “huge damage” has been caused to children in terms of their education, social development and mental health.

Cllr Kyle also said that the greatest impact is being felt among those children from a more disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We frightened parents and that comes down to not properly appreciating risk.

Cllr John Kyle

“We cannot live risk free lives and the risk to our children is greater by not being at school, so we have to wind down the rhetoric about the dangers of Covid-19 because Covid-19 is not that dangerous to children. And increasingly there is evidence that children are not great spreaders of the disease,” he said.

“So we need to reassure parents that for their children to be involved in summer schemes, and summer catch-up schemes, that we are not placing them at great risk.

“The statistics show that your child is at more risk of being hit by lightening than in coming to serious harm from Covid-19.

“Children are becoming disconnected from education and from each other, and the impact is greatest where children are from a more disadvantaged background.”

In an open letter published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, more than 100 specialists in psychology, mental health and neuroscience called on the UK education secretary to end the “national disaster” for young people by releasing them from lockdown.

The East Belfast representative said that adolescent boys in particular “already struggle to stay connected to education,” and added: “This break in education – to be separated from school and from friends – will inevitably further disconnect them from education and that is a real problem.

Cllr Kyle said that all of the bodies with a responsibility for the welfare of children, including educators, health professionals, social services and community groups, need to come together to “look at the relative risks” and then devise a national strategy that would allow children to quickly return to some form of educational catch-up programme.

He also said it is important to engage with teachers, and to hear about their anxieties, but said the focus must now move towards the education of young people.

“Covid-19 is like having the flu for that age group cohort, so why are we over-reacting in this way?” he added.

Yesterday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds has announced the partial reopening of further education colleges and work-based-learning providers to support the delivery of vocational qualifications this summer.

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