UK government right to re-open schools today given the damage to pupils’ education, but Stormont has been led by public opinion

News Letter editorialNews Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
The UK government’s message to protect the NHS and stay home due to the risk of Covid-19 has been more successful than almost anyone envisaged.

Deliberations of the scientific advisory group SAGE show that scientists and ministers were not even confident that the population would obey any lockdown.

Overwhelmingly, people have done. Even now, amid a more relaxed atmosphere, there is widespread voluntary observance of social distancing, in settings from parks to shops.

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However, it might well be that people have been scared more than they needed to be. Some parents remain anxious about reopening schools, the process of which begins today in England.

While many parents have been persuaded by data that shows that children are extremely unlikely to have a bad reaction to coronavirus, others are much more worried and many of them will keep those pupils at home.

The Office for National Statistics found that of the first 33,000 people to die from Covid-19 in the UK, from the outbreak of the pandemic until the beginning of May, only two were children aged 14 or under. That is from a population of 11 million such children. The risk is strikingly low.

However, the danger to the wellbeing of a child from such an extended break in their education is large. As Dr John Kyle wrote in this newspaper last week, it is all the more damaging for poorer children who might not recover lost ground.

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Regrettably, the parents most likely to keep their children home in England today are those who get free school meals, according to a National Foundation for Educational Research survey. In other words, those who will suffer most are also most ill informed as to the low risks.

At least the UK government has done the right thing, defied the teaching unions and begun reopening. Unfortunately Stormont has appeared to let itself be led by a certain section of public opinion, instead of showing political leadership and carefully explaining to parents the minimal Covid risks to pupils, and the harm the school closures are causing.