School Closures

English Schools Stop In-Person Teaching After Imposing Their Own ‘Circuit-Breaker’ Lockdown

St. Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford, and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire, have imposed their own ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdowns, with pupils being sent home and all teaching taking place virtually for at least a week. Both headteachers have said that the reason for shutting the premises is because of concerns that in-person lessons would be disrupted by a Covid outbreak, with parents worried that schools will begin to close again before Christmas. The Sun has the story.

St. Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire have shut for at least a week.

Campaigners fear many more schools could follow suit in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

They say children are being treated as “second class citizens” and must be allowed to stay in the classroom.

The move is being fought by parent group UsForThem, which battled to get kids back in lessons after last year’s lockdowns.

Mum Arabella Skinner told the Telegraph: “As the experience of last year shows, these isolated cases of school closures don’t stay isolated for long.

“The worry is that in the run up to Christmas we will see more examples of this.

“For how much longer are we going to ask our children to stay second class citizens?”

The group’s founder Molly Kingsley added: “We’re deeply saddened to see schools closing due to Covid.

“Kids have missed out on so much face-to-face time this year that they just need to be back in their classrooms and with their friends, learning and being children.

“To close schools at a time when adults are about to be enjoying Christmas parties and mixing seems especially unfair.

“It’s time we let our children get on with living their lives.”

Worth reading in full.

Just Six Healthy Children Died From Covid in Last 12 Months

New data has emerged that suggests closing schools and imprisoning children in their homes during the pandemic wasn’t necessary as children are at virtually no risk from COVID-19. The Telegraph has more.

Only six healthy children with no underlying health conditions died as a direct result of catching Covid during a 12-month window, NHS analysis has revealed.

Four died from Covid, while two developed a Kawasaki-like inflammatory condition called Pims-TS, caused by the virus.

The data calls into question the wisdom of closing schools and forcing children to spend months at home when the health risk to under-18s is so small.

Experts from NHS England, Public Health England and several universities and hospitals analysed official death figures in England between March last year and this February.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine on Thursday, showed that more than 3,100 children died during the study period, but only 61 had Covid.

Further examination of death certificates and medical records by independent clinical experts revealed that 25 of the 61 died due to the virus, with the six healthy children a sub-cohort of the 25. The infection played no role in 60% of the recorded Covid deaths.

Worth reading in full.

£1.8 Billion Funding Boost for Schools to Address The Disruption Caused by Lockdown

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the education system is to receive an extra £1.8 billion in funding to resolve the disruption caused by repeated lockdowns and in-person teaching cancellations due to students or staff receiving a positive Covid test. Approximately £1 billion will be reserved for disadvantaged primary and secondary school children, with the money largely being allocated towards extra-curricular activities and extra tuition for pupils who require it. The Telegraph has the story.

“The Chancellor has shown that we will put money behind enhancing the recovery we know is already under way for young people, building on the real impact of the steps we’ve taken so far, whether that’s tutoring, world-class teacher training or summer schools”.

The majority of the new catch-up cash – £1 billion – will be earmarked for disadvantaged primary and secondary school children aged under 16.

Schools will be allowed to decide how to spend the money but they will be encouraged to use it for evidence-based interventions such as small-group tuition and extra-curricular activities like sports, drama and art.

Meanwhile, the remaining £800 million will allow sixth form students, aged 16 to 19, to have an extra 40 hours a week of lessons over the academic year, which is equivalent to one additional hour a week for each school or college.

The amount of money set aside to fund pupils’ catch-up has been a source of tension in Whitehall. Earlier this year, the Government’s own catch-up tsar quit after warning that the amount of funding did “not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge”.

Sir Kevan Collins’ resignation in June came less than 24 hours after Gavin Williamson, then Education Secretary, announced a new £1.4 billion cash injection for pupil tuition and teacher training. Sir Kevan had advised ministers that Government funds of £15 billion over three years were necessary to reverse the damage done by Covid to pupils’ education.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, accused Sunak of coming up with a catch-up plan “on the cheap”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the funds were a “step in the right direction” they were “nowhere near what is needed”.

Mr Sunak told the Commons on Wednesday that an extra £4.7 billion of core funding will be provided to schools in 2024-25 and £153 million will be spent on early years education to “address the impact of the pandemic on the youngest children”. He also said that more than £200 million will be made available for holiday activities and food programmes.

Worth reading in full.

Preventing Covid Infections Among Healthy Children Is Pointless

Thanks to school closures, children missed out on in-person teaching, as well as regular face-to-face interaction with their friends, for the best part of a year.

The main rationale for closing schools was to help ‘flatten the curve’ of total infections, and thereby prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. (We’ve known since early on in the pandemic that children’s risk of death from Covid is vanishingly small – lower even than their chance of dying from seasonal flu.)

However, evidence suggests that neither lockdowns in general, nor school closures in particular, were necessary to prevent healthcare systems from being overwhelmed; and the harms from school closures were substantial.

Once the Government conceded it was time for schools to reopen, there came a new justification to keep them closed: protecting teachers. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that teachers are not at elevated risk of death from Covid.

Even after schools finally did open up, pupils faced a rigamarole of mask mandates, regular testing and stints of mandatory self-isolation. Since the vast majority of vulnerable people (and most teachers) had been vaccinated by this point, it’s unclear exactly why things couldn’t just return to normal.

As far as one can discern, the specific rationale seems to be: ‘something to do with case numbers and/or long Covid’. Why we should care about case numbers in an age-group that faces a higher risk of death from season flu has not been explained.

As to long Covid, the latest data suggest that only a tiny number of children (less than 2%) continue to report symptoms 12 weeks after infection. One study found that symptoms were no more common among children who’d had the virus than among those who’d never been infected.

Despite all this, demands for more restrictions in schools can still be heard. On 3rd September, scientists associated with Independent SAGE, as well as various other individuals and organisations, co-signed a letter in The BMJ Opinion calling for the Government “to protect children, our wider communities, and the NHS”.

Their “nine point plan” includes such measures as: reinstating face coverings; offering vaccines to all 12–15 year-olds; and reinstating contact tracing “with a strict policy on mandatory isolation”.  

But according to Chris Whitty, “roughly half” of children have already have Covid, and it’s reasonable to assume that “the great majority” are “going to get it at some point” because “this is incredibly infectious”.

Now that almost all vulnerable people have been vaccinated, why are we trying to stop children getting the virus if “the great majority” of them are going to get it at some point anyway? Offering the vaccine to those with an underlying health condition makes sense, but apart from that, why do anything at all?

In fact, shouldn’t we actively encourage young people to get the virus, so as to build up more population immunity before the winter?

Family Butchers Facing Prosecution For Taking Children Out of School to Avoid Closure During Busy Christmas Season

A couple who run a butchers shop in Lancashire are being prosecuted by their local authority for taking their 10 year-old daughter out of school in the run-up to Christmas last year. They were concerned that if they left her and their other daughter, aged 14, in school there was a risk they would be sent home to self-isolate and they, in turn, would be ‘pinged’, forcing them to close their shop during their busiest time of year. Ryan and Faye Moffat have explained what this would have meant:

A business closure at that time of year (the run up to Xmas) would have been financially devastating for our business and family. In addition to the loss of sales profit (which helps to sustain our business during the quieter times of year), we were carrying an exceptionally large volume of perishable stock which was at risk of write-off. Also, failure to fulfil Xmas orders could have had a long-term impact on business goodwill, potentially resulting in a complete business failure.

Failure to pay our mortgage could have resulted in the loss of both our business premises and living accommodation.

The school of their 14 year-old daughter had no objection to her being taken out and home schooled for the last 13 days of term, but their 10 year-old daughter’s school refused permission. Quite extraordinary, given that the school had no compunction about sending children home from March to September. Why was it okay for children to be home schooled for half the year – completely pointlessly, I might add – but not for 13 days to save a family business? Had the Moffats told the school their daughter had Covid symptoms, the school would have instructed them to keep her at home. But they told the truth.

Very sensibly, the Moffats decided to take their 10 year-old out of school anyway – and now they’re being prosecuted by the local education authority. It beggars belief that ratepayers’ money is being spent on this vexatious case.

When the Moffats contacted me, they were planning to represent themselves in court because they couldn’t afford a lawyer. I put them in touch with an experienced criminal solicitor and urged them to start a fundraiser to pay the legal fees, estimated to be £3,000. I’m happy to say they’ve now done this. Please do make a donation so Ryan and Faye are able to fight their corner. You can find the fundraiser here.

Militant Leader of Teaching Union Warns of Further Disruption to Children’s Education

Mary Bousted, the hard left General Secretary of the National Education Union, has warned that inadequate safety procedures in schools ahead of reopening will inevitably mean major disruption in the weeks ahead. In an interview with the Telegraph yesterday, she gave a strong hint that the NEU and the other teaching unions will soon be demanding school closures again – and blaming the Government.

On Monday night Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told The Telegraph: “We have much higher prevalence now in the community than it was. So we’re going in with much higher rates of prevalence into schools where we are relying on one mitigation, which is lateral flow testing.

“In Scotland, they have not abandoned the safety precautions… they have still maintained social distancing where possible, they are still, in secondary schools, using masks.

“My prediction is that very shortly we are going to see schools all over the country in their hundreds having to operate contingency frameworks. But what you’re doing there is shutting the stable door after the Covid horse has bolted.”

Commenting on this veiled threat, Ross Clark says in the Spectator that the Government needs a plan for how to respond if case numbers increase as a result of schools returning, as they’ve done in Scotland following the reopening of Scottish schools a few weeks ago.

A lot of people won’t want to take much notice of Mary Bousted… It was the NEU, after all, which not only opposed the return of schools after the first lockdown, but simultaneously advised its members not to take part in online lessons either. The NEU has often given the impression of being motivated first and foremost by a desire to obstruct the government’s plans.

Sir Patrick Vallance’s original verdict on the virus – that it is not possible to stop it passing through the population – might be more valid now than it was in March 2020

But Bousted has a point in that the return of schools over the next week could have quite a dramatic effect on infection numbers, which will test the government’s faith in controlling Covid through vaccines and travel restrictions, and will inevitably lead to calls for the return of tighter restrictions, perhaps even lockdowns. The warnings of what is to come are there to be seen in Scotland, where most pupils returned to the classroom in the week beginning August 16th. Since then, infection numbers in England and Scotland have diverged markedly. In England, 169,899 infections were recorded in the seven days to August 9th, followed by 174,551 in the seven days to August 16th, 185,903 in the week to August 23rd and 174,760 in the week to August 30th. In Scotland the corresponding figures are 8383, 10,039, 21,164 and 37,917. The picture is complicated because the lifting of most restrictions – which happened in England on July 19th – did not happen in Scotland until August 9th. Nevertheless, it is not hard to see why schools might now be the epicentre of the epidemic. While most adults are now vaccinated, very few children are. In terms of the spread of the virus within schools, very little has changed since the first wave – except, that is, the more transmissible Delta variant is now dominant.

Worth reading in full.