Will schools close again in the UK as coronavirus cases rise?

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It’s been long reported that the UK is facing a second wave of coronavirus and now as France and Germany go into a second lockdown, many parents and children alike are wondering if schools will close again in the UK.

With coronavirus cases on the rise in many parts of the country the thought of having another nationwide lockdown  like the one we had in March, and questions over whether schools will close again in the UK, haven’t been far away from people’s minds. Earlier this year, along with all non-essential businesses closing and many people forced to work from home, schools across the country went virtual and many parents looked for homeschooling advice.

For many pupils, this was as much of a success as it could have been. A report from the Sutton Trust reported that almost 60 per cent of privately educated pupils received online lessons every day and 60 percent of private school students, along with over 30 percent of state-school students from affluent areas, had an online platform to receive work.

However, for others, The Sutton Trust reported some serious failings. For example, privately educated pupils were twice as likely to have online daily lessons than state-school educated children and in the most deprived schools around the country, 15 percent of teachers reported that more than one in three of their students wouldn’t have suitable access to an electronic device for virtual learning. Along with the vote against free school meals by MPs around the country this month, following a campaign by Marcus Rashford, is set to be one of the biggest challenges facing families in need over the winter.

So now, many are more worried more than ever about whether schools will close again as UK coronavirus cases rise, after what they experienced the first time around.

Will schools close again in the UK as coronavirus cases rise?

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It’s good news for most as schools are unlikely to close again in England and Scotland, even under the harshest lockdown restrictions, but they are set to close for some in Wales.

A statement on their website reads, “Primary schools, special schools and independent special schools will reopen after half term on Monday 2 November. Secondary schools and independent schools will be open for children in years 7 and 8, and for those pupils who are sitting exams during the week 2 to 6 November. Other pupils will continue their learning from home for that week, supported by teaching staff who will be based in schools.”

This means that in Wales, children in years 9 and above who are not sitting exams imminently will be learning from home with support from the schools.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, schools will stay open. Ministers including Boris Johnson and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon have been keen to emphasise that keeping schools open and safe for children is vital for ensuring their education.

In his statement to the House of Commons on October 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that some people would prefer a full-scale lockdown like that we had in March, rather than local lockdowns and the new three tier system, but he believed that wasn’t the answer.

“Of course there are those who say that on that login we should back into a full national lockdown of indefinite duration, closing schools and businesses, telling people again to stay at home as we did in March. Once again shuttering our lives and society. I do not believe that would be the right course. We would not only be depriving our children of their education, we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services.”

In England’s new three tier lockdown system, even at the “very high” risk level in the third tier, schools are set to stay open for the most part. Their functioning, however, relies on students getting a test for coronavirus, as the bubbling system in place currently around the country, requires children to be sent home to work if someone in their ‘bubble’ tests positive for the virus.

On announcing Scotland’s 4 tier system, which could soon also come into play in England, Nicola Sturgeon said that the country would not be taking on the same restrictions that were seen in the first lockdown. She said, “So let me be clear. We are not going back into lockdown today. We are not closing schools, colleges or universities. We are not halting the remobilisation of the NHS for non-Covid care. And we are not asking people to stay at home.”

In Northern Ireland, schools will reopen as planned on November 2 after an extended Halloween break. Education Minister Peter Weir said, “This year has been a stressful time for schools, pupils and parents.  I want to thank principals, teachers and school staff for their dedication and commitment to keeping schools a safe and welcoming place for pupils to learn.”

The commitment in Northern Ireland to keep schools open has endured some backlash, however. It was reported by the BBC that there were confirmed cases of Covid-19 in half of Northern Ireland’s schools, with over 2000 cases since teaching re-started at the beginning of the term. This has led to some ministers to call for school closures across the country but the education minister has vowed to oppose all ideas of closing schools in the foreseeable future.

Why are schools not closing?

Despite evidence suggesting that half of schools in England and Northern Ireland have had to send ‘bubbles’ of pupils home due to coronavirus, schools are not closing because of the devastating impact it would have on educating young people in the UK. As any parent who helped teachers with home-schooling over the first lockdown will know, what they learn at home is not going to be the same as what they would learn at school. While some parents have flourished with home-schooling their children, data from the Sutton Trust report suggests that others have really struggled.

But it’s not only that, as learning time in all schools dramatically dropped during lockdown, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. Primary school students, on average, spent 25% less time learning on a typical school day during lockdown than before it. This means that their standard 6 hour school day was reduced to 4.5 hours and so children missed out on essential learning time. The same was said for secondary schools, where there was an even bigger difference, as students went from learning for 6.6 hours a day to just 4.5 hours during the lockdown. Joined with existing research that shows extra learning time leads to better educational results, this is particularly worrying for those children set to take exams in the coming year.

Missing out on learning time means that some parts of the curriculum, which are included in GCSE and A-level exams by law, won’t be covered in class and so children will be forced to teach themselves from their own textbooks and online resources provided by the school, which has undoubtedly had mixed results over the last six months.

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