Vaccinate school staff urgently: Our CEO’s letter to Matt Hancock
Thursday 7 January 2021
Dear Mr Hancock,
Whilst we all understand the rationale of school closures, it comes at immense cost to millions of children and there is little evidence that this cost is being measured or understood fully.
We have daily tracking data for Covid-19 infection rates, but nothing that updates us regularly on the devastating and long-lasting effects (not just academic, but also social, physical and mental) of children missing out on school. These effects will be felt far more by those living in already challenging circumstances – under-privileged children will again see their life chances reduced substantially.
I welcome the commitment to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by mid-February, but much more needs to be done to ensure all schools open at that point, without disruption. The only way to achieve this is to commit to vaccinating the one million people who work in schools, and then have a rigorous testing regime of pupils – this could be weekly and randomised; any pupils with symptoms should self-isolate and close contacts immediately tested.
Missing out on school does not just mean a few weeks’ education loss. Children, particularly young children, quickly forget what they have learned – much of education in Key Stage One involves constant repetition of the key building blocks – phonics, number bonds, handwriting, listening skills. Through play, topic work, craft and physical education children are encouraged to be curious, to experiment, to fail and to try again – all critical if children are to engage in learning. Too many children are missing out on these key skills. Young children have not built up phonics knowledge, meaning that they cannot progress to reading; teenagers have missed out on teamwork, on entire topics and on the gratification of passing their exams.
Social isolation, meanwhile, is devastating for the young, who build confidence and a sense of self through their interactions with others. It is not an overstatement to say that school closures threaten to hold an entire generation back.
Teachers and school workers need the confidence of vaccination in order for them to be confident about being at work. The vaccination programme of school staff should start urgently, with those working in the most disadvantaged areas at the front of the queue.
CEO Bellevue Education
Founding Trustee of Bellevue Place Education Trust