Ex principal: The education and life chances of children are being destroyed by these long school closures

On June 18 last year, eight months ago, this newspaper said that it was damning that in Northern Ireland there had been so little debate about the huge matter of long school closures.

By Hugh McCarthy
Friday, 19th February 2021, 11:45 am
Children playing in a school playground in England in the 1970s. Schools provide the socialisation, the stability and support that many children need, writes the former principal Hugh McCarthy
Children playing in a school playground in England in the 1970s. Schools provide the socialisation, the stability and support that many children need, writes the former principal Hugh McCarthy

(see link to that article below)

Where are we now?

Education standards plummeting, the exam system uncertain and university entry unclear. Child depression and self-harm at alarming levels,

Hugh McCarthy is a former principal of Killicomaine Junior High School

Yet still the children are not at school.

Where is the outrage? — no date for P4 to 7 and years 8-11 to return at all — are we al’right with that? Key years as children learn to read lost.

P1 to P3 in, then out a fortnight later — to allow Years 12 and 14 in (to avoid large groups at the same school!) just before Easter and then what? And what about sixth form?

All the while their education and life chances are being destroyed.

Five exam years have been undermined.

The damage to reading is, for many, irreversible — for a child already struggling to read — the time lost was absolutely critical and many will never achieve functional literacy, with all that that means.

What about all those lost practical skills at school in science, technology, art, home economics and languages?

How are those skills going to be learnt?

What about fitness and participating as part of a team and the essential skills of leadership, loyalty, commitment which team sports, in particular, and school clubs in general foster?

Will sixth form students consider going to university next year — no face to face teaching, paying a fortune and possibly locked in their halls. What are the implications?

How is the absence of practical experience going to be made up — whether you are a training doctor, dentist or teacher or an engineer or a bridge builder or an apprentice electrician or plumber or hairdresser.

A generation is going to ask why were their lives were damaged when all the scientific evidence shows the virus does not affect children and their teachers are at no greater risk than the general population, according to the Office of National Statistics. And the Public Health Authority says there is no surge of infections round schools.

So why are our schools still closed, healthy children denied education, and their life chances ruined?

And how can education take place if both teacher and pupil are wearing face coverings? Surely if we are expecting children to cover their noses and mouths for six hours per day, a risk assessment should be carried out to see if this is safe.

And have we not spent an age telling children not to spend all day looking at a screen because it is bad for them — are we now saying it is OK?

As for mental health, the UK’s top experts say that schools must fully reopen to avoid the “calamitous impact” on mental health because schools provide the socialisation, the stability and support that many children need.

What happened to the mantra “listen to the children”? The children are screaming yet no one is listening.

It’s as if the reports from Ofsted and leading child psychiatrists are being ignored and that our children’s health, well-being, education and life chances are not the priority.

The anti-Nazi German Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “the test of the morality of a society is what it does to its children”.

It is time to protect our children.

And as Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, put it: “When we close schools we close their lives.”

Children are better off at school and that is where they all should be.

Hugh McCarthy is a former principal of Killicomaine Junior High School

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