UK school closures are sacrificing childhoods to save older people – now it’s payback time | Schools

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According to Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons’ education select committee, the closure of UK schools is unleashing on children the four horsemen of the education apocalypse: lost learning, increased mental health problems, safeguarding concerns and potential loss of earnings in the future.

Solutions suggested so far have been unrealistic. Schools are not magicians. They cannot make up for a lost year by shaving two weeks off the summer holidays. Exhausted staff teaching a few extra hours each day will not help every child to catch up.

The government needs to look further for solutions – and may have to look at people’s bank accounts to pay for it.

The first thing the UK can do for the young is to calm down a little. A lost year is not ideal, but a lot of school time is spent on admin: registration, moving between lessons, lunch, getting books in and out of bags. Factor in that most secondary school lessons were online by the summer term, and the amount of lost learning is not as enormous as imagined. For primary children the need is more pressing, as they have struggled with online teaching. But the upside is that they have a longer time period over which to grasp missed concepts and re-establish learning habits.

Once back at school, the trick will be to work out which children need extra tutoring. The £1bn national tutoring programme is a solid idea, especially if properly funded and extended for the rest of this parliament. Tutoring hours should, however, go to those children who are clearly behind in their work, and not to every middle-class child whose parents thinks their offspring “deserves more” after a tough year. If a child’s reading, writing and maths is hitting expected standards, normal schooling is adequate.

But every child deserves compensation for lost social experiences. Nativities, school Proms, the year 8 residential trip: these rites of passage have vanished from young people’s timelines. Huge gains could quickly be made without any extra pressure on schools.

Last August, the chancellor fell over himself to hand out £10 Rishi’s Dishes dinner vouchers, with more than 100 million meals claimed. For the same price, every school-age child could be offered £120 of activity vouchers to use on summer camps, expeditions, outdoor theatre and online music lessons. Our entire arts and leisure industry are on their knees. If they knew cash would be available, they could spend the spring planning these events. Meanwhile, schools could focus on academic learning instead of getting sucked into conversations about whether teachers should run summer schools in return for getting the vaccine. (Short answer: no.)

The traumatic effects on children of being shoved inside, told that tens of thousands of people were dying of a deadly virus, then being sent back to school when the rest of the country was in lockdown, are not to be underestimated. Of course, the vast majority coped. But some children struggled and will need mental health support. We cannot go back to a world of a two-year wait for help for an eating disorder, or where thousands of young people end up in A&E for self-harm – and even then are not seen for hours.

Childhoods were sacrificed this past year, in large part to save the NHS and older people. It is time for the NHS and the older community to do their part and throw a protective ring around children’s futures. Reducing the pension triple lock to a “double lock”, just for two years, and using that money to give every child a right to access school-based counselling and psychologist services, would enable a mental health reset. It would also send a message to young people that they matter – as people, not just as grades on a piece of paper.

Schools cannot do everything. But together, as a society, we can do a lot.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK school closures are sacrificing childhoods to save older people – now it’s payback time | Schools

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