Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said:
As repeated lockdowns have shown, the closure of schools is not good for our children’s education, mental health, wellbeing or safety. Any national decision this winter about opening schools after the holidays must be based on the best available evidence and must balance the risk of increased transmission against the risk of wider harms to our young people. There is no doubt that this is a very difficult balance to achieve but, ultimately, all of us want the best for all our children while protecting the health of the broader population.
Schools are vital to the broader wellbeing of children and young people, providing social interaction and recreational activities as well as a range of services from vaccinations to mental health and wellbeing support. Evidence is continuing to mount up across the UK that many young people did not cope well under previous lockdowns and that this resulted in an increase in eating disorders, self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Schools are also where at-risk children are looked out for and supported and there is good evidence to show rising cases of children reporting physical, sexual and online abuse. Furthermore, it is clear that closure of schools will have a lasting legacy of widened inequalities. UNICEF has said there is now a shadow pandemic harming our children and has issued a call on all governments to only close schools as a last resort.
We know teaching staff and schools have been working extremely hard to support young people through this challenging period. We salute these frontline workers.
Our view remains that schools should be the last places to close and the first to open. This should be a key guiding principle for national governments as they respond to Omicron. We’ve said many times that it is not a simple choice between protecting the community and prioritising children’s access to school. Both are vital and finding the right balance is hugely difficult.
It is imperative that we keep in mind the short- and long-term impact of this pandemic on our children and young people and make sure no child gets left behind. Governments from across the UK each need to build a cross-departmental, ambitious and properly funded strategy for children and young people.
For more on the impact of COVID-19 on children and child health services, see below:
- RCPCH: COVID-19 research and evidence studies
- RCPCH report: Impact of COVID-19 on child health services between April and July 2020
- RCPCH report: Impact of COVID-19 on child health services between December 2020 and February 2021
- RCPCH - COVID-19 - research studies on children and young people's views