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There was no need for school closures, and they knew it all along

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A RECENT Ofsted report highlighted the damaging effects of the Covid restrictions on the development and learning of young children. These include:

– delays in babies’ physical development

– a generation of babies struggling to crawl and communicate

– babies suffering delays in learning to walk

– babies struggling to respond to basic facial expressions

– toddlers struggling to make friends, struggling with speech and language

– regression in children’s independence

– children with limited vocabulary

Such learning and developmental issues continue as children get older. National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) research published last month reports that the negative impact of Covid lockdowns on reading progress was greatest among Key Stage1 pupils, particularly those in Year 1. It says the impact of lockdowns on the development of literacy skills at an early age is of ‘particular concern’ as ‘early reading plays a key part in children’s later achievement’.

The reports identified two main reasons for the damage.

Firstly the wearing of facemasks by adults, which I addressed here.

Secondly, children’s absence due to school closures or being sent home to isolate.

This article examines the basis on which we sent and continue to send huge numbers of children (and staff) home from school, and asks whether there was sufficient available evidence to justify such draconian measures. There wasn’t. But first let’s go back.

On March 20,2020, the Prime Minister announced that all the UK’s schools, colleges and early years settings were to close, saying: ‘The objective is to slow the spread of the virus.’

Schools reopened in June or September 2020 depending on which part of the UK the children lived in. From then on, a damaging and restrictive set of regulations led to continual absence, isolation and quarantining of healthy children continued through to the end of February 2022 when they were finally officially lifted. 

In July 2021 the BBC reported:

‘Almost a quarter (23.3 per cent) of pupils in England were out of school last week, the latest official attendance figures show.

‘This means there were 1.7million pupils absent, up from 1.5million the week before.

‘The latest figures include over a million off for Covid-related reasons, but only 47,000 actually had Covid.

‘In secondary schools, the absence rate was nearer a third (32.7 per cent).’

One million schoolchildren were still absent in January 2022. In March it was reported that some trusts were still experiencing a 20 per cent staff absence, making teaching impossible. 

Warnings of the damage being inflicted had been issued by government agencies as early as June 2020 when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported: ‘Over half (52 per cent) of parents with school-aged children said a child in their household was struggling to continue their education while at home, with just over three in four of these parents (77 per cent) giving lack of motivation as one of the reasons.’ 

In August 2020 Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said that missing school was more harmful for children than the virus, and highlighted ‘overwhelming’ evidence that in not going to school, children are more likely to have ‘mental and physical ill health in the long run’.

Yet they continued with the policy.

The PM had said on March 20, 2020, that the objective of closing schools was to slow the spread of the virus. The policy appeared to be based on the belief that children are a risk because they transmit the illness to others. The slogan ‘don’t kill granny’ was disgracefully used to pass responsibility on to children.

But scientific evidence was widely available from early on that asymptomatic transmission was all but non-existent and that children even if they had the virus, as determined by the flawed PCR test, didn’t transmit. Many of the early studies which purported to demonstrate the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission were from China, yet the fact that Chinese studies were only published following Government approval bringing their reliability into question. 

On June 7, 2020, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO emphasised that asymptomatic spread was ‘very rare’.

In August 2020  a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) report concluded that children were much less likely to contract the virus. It reported that that ‘re-opening schools had not been associated with significant increases in community transmission’.

Nor do children transmit the virus, said Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of Sage, in August 2020. ‘There are thousands and thousands of transmission events that have been inferred [from contact tracing] – out of all those thousands, still we can’t find a single one involving a child transmitting to a teacher in a classroom.’

In November 2020 the Wuhan mass screening study which had identified just 300 asymptomatic cases was revisited and found not one of them to be infectious

The British Medical Journal also confirmed that teachers were no more affected by Covid 19 than the general public. 

Dr Clare Craig in a detailed presentation on transmission of infectious diseases at the ‘Question Everything’ conference in July 2021  confirmed there had been no ‘no cases of anyone needing medical care having caught Covid from a person with no symptoms’. 

In addition there were serious doubts about the validity of the PCR test, the means of identifying those deemed to be infectious. Was it a sufficiently robust tool to destroy the education, development and life chances of our children? No. PCR cannot distinguish an infective virus from a harmless virus or viral fragment. 

Therefore many ‘cases’ have no real meaning in terms of medical status or transmissibility potential. PCR test results are completely inappropriate for providing evidence of whether there is an outbreak in a school. As to the risk to children from Covid-19, their very low risk has been confirmed by WHO, ‘The lowest risk was observed in children aged 5-11 without comorbidities. In this group, the ICU admission rate was 0.2 per 10,000 and case fatality could not be calculated, due to an absence of cases’.

So we have seen that the foundations of the policy – that children transmit the virus, that asymptomatic transmission is prevalent and that the PCR test is an appropriate tool – were wrong from the start, and were known to be wrong almost immediately, but the policy was pursued nonetheless. The damage to children was immense and potentially long-lasting.

The Ofsted report refers to the importance of ‘catch up’. But catch up is not possible if we keep doing the same thing that caused the problem in the first place. How can children catch up if we keep sending them home?

As the Christian theologist Dietrich Bonhoffer said: ‘The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.’ It is time to put the children first.

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Hugh McCarthy
Hugh McCarthy
Hugh McCarthy is a retired headmaster and former lecturer in leadership at Ulster University.

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