PRIMARY schools across the country are set to open “at the earliest” on June 1 as part of the government’s plan for getting the UK up and running again.
Local councils have criticised the move as many fear children and staff may still be exposed to coronavirus if they reopen classrooms too soon.
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Under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans, children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will be able to return to class.
Experts today agreed kids can go back to school, after a major review of the evidence found that children are 56 per cent less likely to contract the virus.
Many schools across the country have said they will not be able to ensure the safety of their pupils.
Meanwhile a rival group to the government’s Sage committee today said June 1 would be “too early” to reopen.
The “Independent Sage” committee has claimed that the government should delay the reopening date for another two weeks.
As many parents continue to struggle with the burden of home schooling, home life and their own full time jobs, what are the risks and is it safe to send your child back to the classroom?
1. What are the risks?
Little is know about how children spread the virus but researchers today revealed that children are less likely than adults to contract Covid-19.
Professor Russell Viner, from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said there is an “increasing amount” of data available, adding this is the first major review to focus on risk of kids catching and spreading the bug.
He said: “Our findings show children and young people appear 56 per cent less likely to contract Covid-19 from infected others.
“Susceptibility is a key part of the chain of infection, and this supports the view that children are likely to play a smaller role in transmitting the virus and proliferating the pandemic, although considerable uncertainty remains.
“This new data provides essential evidence to governments around the world to inform their decision-making on whether to reopen schools and reduce or end lockdown measures.”
Speaking during a media briefing this morning he added that while it wasn’t helpful for the researchers to say “what is and isn’t safe” when it comes to the reopening of schools, he did highlight that children are low risk within communities.
“For children themselves, the balance of evidence is that children are the safest group to be out in the community. Their risk of death or severe infection is extremely low.
“The balance of risk is strongly to return to school”.
Even though experts say children should return to school, experts acknowledged that social distancing would be hard to maintain and also said parents have a responsibility to remain vigilant.
Prof Chris Bonell highlighted that it was also important that contact between parents at the schools gates was also assessed.
“The level of contact tracing will be the key thing for opening schools, we will need to know if measures are working, but teachers won’t have time to be filling out questionnaires to help with this”.
2. Should kids wear face masks?
Guidance on whether or not people in the UK should be wearing face masks has been a widely debated issue.
While there is little evidence to back up claims that masks can protect you from becoming infected – experts say they can stop an infected person from spreading the disease.
Current advice from the UK government states that you should wear a face covering or mask if you take public transport or if you go to a supermarket.
You do not have to wear them when you are exercising.
But the Government does suggest face masks are not suitable for very young children.
Government advice states: “Face-coverings should not be used by children under the age of two, or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example, primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions.”
As it stands the children returning to school will all be of primary age and the advice would mean that they do not have to wear them.
But as individual schools have rebelled against the government’s plans saying they will not open schools, it may be that individual head teachers and local councils make these decisions for their schools.
The government states: “Schools and other education or childcare settings should therefore not require staff, children and learners to wear face coverings.
“Changing habits, cleaning and hygiene are effective measures in controlling the spread of the virus.”
3. Will it affect their mental health?
The coronavirus lockdown has affected everyone’s normal routine.
Many parents are at home with their children all day and for many kids, it might be hard to understand what’s going on.
This shift in routine has seen many children struggle as they are away from their peers and from their normal lives.
But older children, who are more aware of the situation may feel uncomfortable about going back to school.
Many children are aware of the virus and the changes around them but it’s important to talk to your children about what they should expect when returning to schools and what the pandemic means.
Dr Lucy Viney from The Fitzrovia Psychology Clinic in London said parents should’t be afraid to discuss the pandemic with their children.
“Your goal is to help your child feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely to be more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.”
How to support children during lockdown
Dr Lucy Viney gave her top tips on how to help your child through the coronavirus lockdown.
1. Do not be afraid to discuss the coronavirus with your child: Your goal is to help your child feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely to be more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.
2. Allow your child space to share their worries and fears: For example, you could say: “I understand that all these changes are making you feel worried. It’s OK to feel worried when everything seems different. I’m so pleased you have let me know how you’re feeling”.
3. Identify non-verbal opportunities for emotional expression: For example, it can be helpful to draw pictures of things that your child has noticed each day or to ask them to choose some music to listen to together that reflects how they are feeling.
4. Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe and healthy, such as hand-washing: This is empowering for children because it gives them tools and knowledge to help keep themselves and others safe, and something that they can focus on.
5. Establish a daily routine: It can be helpful to integrate activities that you used to do before the coronavirus outbreak, such as eating together, watching a TV show or going to for an evening walk.
6. Find regular opportunities for meaningful conversations: If possible, try to find an opportunity each day to spend between 5-60 minutes of ‘special time’ with each of your children. The basic premises of ‘special time’ are that you specify the length of time (which is determined by however much you can manage that day) and the location, and your child chooses the activity. This ‘special time’ should be free from any external distractions, such as phone calls.
7. Look after your mental wellbeing too: Practice self-care and invest in your own wellbeing. It’s important to remember that you can only do what you can manage at this time and that every day doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’.
Dr Lucy added that you need to allow your child space and time to reflect on how they are feeling.
“For example, you could say: ‘I understand that all these changes are making you feel worried.
“It’s OK to feel worried when everything seems different. I’m so pleased you have let me know how you’re feeling’.”
She added that you should also make sure your child is aware of the various hygiene principles such as hand washing and social distancing, if they see you actively doing these activities they will be more inclined to do them for themselves.
4. Am I the only one who is worried?
During this time it’s easy to think you are being over protective of your children if you don’t want to send them back to school.
But you’re not alone, as a recent survey suggested that parents do not want lockdown to be lifted until September, meaning many don’t want their kids to go back until the next school year.
Two in three parents believe lockdown should stay in place until at least June, with 27.8 per cent saying the lockdown should remain until September, according to a UK-wide poll of 3,550 parents led by learner provider, Exemplar Education.
It’s important that you address these worries and each parent should assess their situation individually, what’s right for you might not always be right for your friends and neighbours.
Dr Lucy highlighted that it’s important for parents to make sure their own mental health needs are catered for during this time.
This is while Steve O’Hara, director of education for Exemplar Education said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unbelievable impact on the day to day lives of families everywhere.
“Parents and children are in unfamiliar territory and trying their very best to face the challenges that learning from home brings.
“It’s vital for parents to be able to talk freely about these challenges and to take care of their own mental wellbeing over the course of the lockdown.
“Sharing worries will help all of us feel less stress and concerned and help us take some of the pressure off.”
5. Are they missing out?
One big concern during this time is that children would miss out on vital education.
Downing Street published Sage documents that do warn the effects of lockdown could affect children’s education and work prospects for the rest of their lives.
While many schools have provided home schooling resources, some households may not be able to access them, while other parents may not feel comfortable home schooling their kids.
As many as 35.2 per cent of parents reported difficulties in supporting their children with learning from home.
In a clear sign that many parents nationwide are feeling the strain a further 37.7 per cent said they do not feel equipped to support their children’s learning.
Mr O’Hara added: “Many are extremely concerned about lockdown coming to an end too suddenly, yet are anxious about their children’s learning and their own personal ability to support them at home.”
While some children will be missing out on the education aspect of the lockdown, others will also be struggling in the constrained social environment.
The education secretary earlier this month warned of dire consequences to learning if children did not return to school.
Gavin Williamson said that children “stand to lose more by staying away from schools”.
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Reassuring parents that schools would be made safe he said: “School staff can already be tested for the virus, but from the first of June we’ll extend that to cover children and their families if any of them develop symptoms.
“Together these measures will create an inherently safer system where the risk of transmission is substantially reduced for children, their teachers and also their families.”
This is while Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey this week said that children in older age groups should not be forced to catch up on what they have missed out on during the lockdown period.
Speaking to TES she said: “What we are going to see when we get back to the classroom is those students who are in families where their parents are lucky enough be able to afford tutors, or those who can hothouse, will catch up very quickly.
“And everybody else won’t be able to do that, and then you’ve got a whole generation of pupils who could fall through the cracks and their prospects will be affected and they won’t be able to get jobs in the future.”
6. I have to go back to work, can I send my child to nursery?
During the lockdown, many nurseries, like schools have remained open to support parents of children who are key workers.
Many have been running at a limited capacity, but workers are still generally having the same amount of contact with children as they did before.
Busy Bees – which has 378 centres across the UK and Ireland – has confirmed its health and safety plans will not include those stringent measures.
Kids will be able to play in smaller groups and teachers will work on dividing children into close friendship groups to limit the number of people they come into contact with.
They will also reduce the space that children can explore and increase the time they spend outdoors.
Playdough, sandpits and water games will be banned in a bid to prevent the killer bug from spreading around nurseries.
All children and staff will have their temperature checked upon arrival, and those families waiting to enter the nursery will be asked to wait two metres apart at drop off and pick up.
Regular temperature checks for both children and team members will continue throughout the day, as will frequent handwashing and disinfecting of communal areas.
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