Millions of English children went back to school on Monday after their second extended stretch of home learning due to a strict national shutdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The resumption of English schools for all pupils is the first step in a four-step government plan to facilitate lock-in while trying to prevent a resurgence of infections following a devastating winter wave that severely strained hospitals.
Since the pandemic began, the UK has recorded 124,500 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, the fifth highest official death toll in the world and the worst in Europe.
For adults in England, the lock remains in force, with social contact severely limited, people under orders to stay at home except for essential reasons, most shops closed and cafes and restaurants that can only offer takeaway or delivery.
“Getting all schools back has been our priority and the first step in our roadmap back to normalcy,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.
Today, students return to schools in England.
I want to thank teachers, parents, guardians and caregivers for the work you have done for the children to learn the whole pandemic.
Getting all schools back has been our priority and the first step in our roadmap back to normalcy.
– Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 8, 2021
The resumption of schools is a huge relief for millions of parents who have spent months juggling work and full-time child care.
Elementary school students return to their classrooms and playgrounds with some Covid-19 rules, such as not being able to spend time with children outside of a strictly defined “bubble,” delayed arrivals and departures, and frequent hand washing.
For upper secondary schools and their students, the requirements are more onerous. Teenagers are mass-tested for Covid-19 – a large company for schools – and must wear facial covers in class.
The government has distributed nearly 57 million high-speed “sidestream” test kits to schools across the country, but there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests, which could lead to students being forced to self-isolate unnecessarily.
However, Susan Hopkins, director of Public Health England, told the BBC that evidence from testing over the past eight weeks suggested that less than 1 in 1,000 tests resulted in a false positive.
Despite the logistical difficulties, there is almost unanimity between parents, teachers, child psychologists, social workers and a wider society that it is important to get children back to school for their mental health, education and livelihoods.
Most students had missed more than three months of school in the spring and early summer of 2020, when the UK was under its first strict national Covid-19 lockdown.
In the first suspension, as in the most recent, only children were considered vulnerable or those whose parents were classified as “key workers” by the government were allowed to go to school. But even they had no normal lessons, as teachers were busy arranging distance learning for everyone else.
( Jowharwith REUTERS, AP)