School’s in for summer – and beyond – with health experts agreeing that pupils safely returning to their studies is “positively” the right thing to do. It’s vital for all children’s welfare, not just in terms of students’ future education but also mental and physical well-being, as well as social interaction of classmates.
Schools across England are preparing to welcome back pupils of all ages to classrooms in September.
The safety of children is at the heart of preparations, with parents and guardians assured COVID-19 secure measures are all in place. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a statement supporting the #backtoschoolsafely campaign. England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty assured: “The risk of contracting COVID-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer.”
English secondary school head teachers now have “flexibility” to introduce face coverings following World Health Organization updated advice. Public Health England chief nurse Viv Bennett confirmed: “Parents can be reassured, to maximise safety in schools, an extremely stringent system of controls has been advised by Public Health England, published in their guidance.”
A recent report from Public Health England showed, of more than one million children who attended pre-school and primary schools in England in June, just 70 children and 128 staff were infected in outbreaks of the virus. Most outbreaks detected had likely been caused by staff members, only two outbreaks are thought to involve students infecting other students.
Return to school is mandatory except for students aged 16 and over. If they do not return, their college may believe they have left the course. Most schools have stayed open for children of key workers throughout the pandemic with teachers now excited to see the rest of their pupils return.
Department of Education chiefs stress it is important for children to be in schools and nurseries as they remain the best places for them to learn. All students should return to class, not just for their education, but for other positive aspects of their lives including sense of routine, mental health, overall wellbeing and mixing with their friends.
Public Health England reports prevalence of coronavirus has decreased since schools and colleges restricted their opening to most pupils in March. NHS Test and Trace system is up and running with much more now understood about measures that need to be in place to create safer environments.
Scientific evidence confirms coronavirus presents much lower risk to children than adults of becoming severely ill. And there is no evidence youngsters transmit the disease any more than adults. This is also true for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background pupils. Parents with any concerns are asked to contact respective schools directly.
Public Health England experts are clear that the risks of catching coronavirus are low if schools apply systems of control including regular hand-washing and cleaning measures, staggering break times and closely following government guidance. Health bosses also advise schools and parents to ensure anyone displaying symptoms does not attend.
If there is an outbreak at a school, local health protection teams will work with education leaders to agree what action is needed. Usually, the school will not need to close fully and will have contingency plans in place so children’s education continues.
“Evidence so far indicates schools do not appear to be a primary driver of coronavirus infections in the community,” assured Mrs Bennett.
A walk or cycle to school is so healthy
To ease pressure on the public transport networks, the Government is encouraging all children, young people and their parents to walk, cycle or scoot to and from schools or colleges, which also improves health.
Where it’s not possible to do so, follow government guidance when taking public transport. This includes wearing a face covering – ages 11 and over – and social distancing.
To reduce congestion at the school gates, only one parent should attend pick-up and drop-off.
Help with costs
Is government help with childcare and nursery costs available for families?
Yes. A wide range of financial support is available for families with children aged 0-11 including tax-free Childcare which can be up to £2,000 per child per year.
You can also apply for a 30-hours childcare place before August 31. To find out what support is available for you visit childcarechoices.gov.uk
Getting back into a routine is important to mental health
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, parenting and relationships expert and author, answers questions on children’s return to school.
How do you think this time off school might have affected them?
I’m not worried about the academic gap, because I think kids will pick up very quickly. But it’s starting to affect their mental health more and more, so it’s good that they will be back in school from September.
How do you think going back to school will improve kids’ mental health?
I think when they go back it will be easier to tell them to stop using their phone or “you need a good night’s sleep.” Getting back into that routine is so important. At school they’ll be stimulated and they’ll develop more self discipline.
It’s been challenging for them, especially if they’re vulnerable to social anxiety. I think maybe the start will be a little bit awkward – like when they started year seven and it felt overwhelming – but the sooner they get back the better for all of us. For the new year sevens to have not finished primary school properly, it’s going to be more challenging.
How can we support our children as they go back to school?
If they’re worried, I always start with validation. Reflect on what they’re saying and validate and normalise it. So: “I hear you’re a little bit worried …” and let them know that you trust that they’re capable of coping with it and you don’t have any doubt that they’ll succeed.
Pupils are being advised to walk or cycle to school – how do you think that will help their mental health?
Even before COVID-19, I would recommend that if people were driving to school they could park further away and walk for 15 minutes because again it’s related to sensory integration and all this movement is vital for the brain.
In September schools and colleges will reopen for all. Find out more about returning safely at gov.uk/backtoschool