Independent SAGE have called for a national education task force in a new report published today aimed at mitigating the harms of school closures and enabling the re-opening as soon as possible.
The independent group of scientists said it recognises the decision to close schools was necessary, but highlighted the “substantial” harm caused by closures in terms of both the immediate mental health of pupils and their long-term future prospects.
In its ‘Safe Schools’ report, Independent SAGE calls for the immediate formation of a national education task force made up of government, local authorities, teachers, parents and school pupils in order to:
- Plan, resource and implement changes that will create a more Covid-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 remote study, organise 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:
a) to catch up on expected levels of learning.
b) to make successful transitions to employment or further/higher education and consider how to reduce the negative consequences of school closures.
The group said government proposals that children without access to digital devices can return to school undermines the point of school closures, making the policy less effective and exposing underprivileged children to risk of greater infection.
The group said the new task force would oversee the immediate provision of resources to support online learning for all children.
Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews said: “As ever, the Government has created a crisis, responded at the last moment with emergency measures but has entirely failed to develop a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the pandemic. This report fills that gap with just such a strategy for schools.”
Independent SAGE also wants the government to narrow the definition of key workers and increase furlough support to bring down the number of pupils attending school during lockdown. The group said schools are currently a “major source of infection transmission”.