By Integrated Care Journal-
Independent SAGE (Indie SAGE), a group of scientists that are providing independent advice to the UK Government and public, have proposed a new "Safe School Policy' aimed at mitigating the harms of closures and enabling pupils to return to schools safely as soon as possible.
Given the significant increase of infections in the wider community due to the new Covid-19 variant, Indie SAGE supports the Government's move on closing schools. The group stated that: "It was necessary to limit all forms of social contact, including within educational settings, in order to bring the pandemic back under control and stop the NHS being overwhelmed". However, the group have called for the establishment of a new “National Education Task Force” to minimise disruption to education.
It also recognises the "substantial harms" caused by school closures in terms of both the immediate mental health of school students and their long-term future prospects.
With remote learning now crucial to allowing education to continue during lockdown, Ofcom estimates there are up to 1.5 million without access to digital devices in the home. Therefore, Indie SAGE has called for immediate provision of resources to support online learning for disadvantaged children, to be overseen by a task force.
Indie SAGE also disagree with the Government proposals that children without access to digital devices can return to school. The expert group argues that the proposal undermines the point of school closures, making the policy less effective, and exposes underprivileged children to the risk of greater infection.
"National Education Task Force"
Accordingly, Independent SAGE calls for the immediate formation of a National Education Task Force involving Government, Local Authorities, Teachers, Parents and School Students in order to:
- Plan, resource and implement changes that will create a more Covid-19-secure environment in schools and hence allow a safe return to school as soon as possible
- Determine the resources necessary to allow all students to participate in the remote study, organise the provision of those resources and monitor their roll-out
- Monitor the mental health needs of students and staff and provide the necessary support in schools.
- Evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the acquisition of knowledge, skills and accreditation so as to design interventions that enable school pupils:
- to catch up on expected levels of learning.
- to make successful transitions to employment or further/higher education and consider how to reduce the negative consequences of school closures.
Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews said: “We recognise that, given the extent to which infections have been allowed to run out of control, it is now necessary to close schools down. However, it is entirely unacceptable to shut things down without also acting to make schools safe when they reopen, without providing the resources to ensure that all pupils can study remotely, and without developing plans to address the serious harms caused by the closure. ”
Indie SAGE provides weekly briefings every Friday at 1:30pm to provide updates on Covid-19 and answer questions from the press and the public.
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