Piers Morgan brands Johnson’s handling of schools ‘insane’
It came as experts warned that “we will see a lost generation” of children blighted by mental health issues. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said parents are also struggling as they deal with the demands of work and ensuring their children are learning. He said: “The revolving door of school closures is a national disaster for our schoolchildren. There are really serious worries about mental health and educational attainment.
“I would urge the Government to place mental health professionals in schools so that children and parents have access to them when they need it. It’s not just the children who are suffering; it’s the parents who are struggling too.”
A recent study in the Lancet found that the number of under 16s reporting indications of mental health problems had risen from 10.8 per cent in 2017 to 16 per cent last summer.
More than a quarter of them reported disrupted sleep and one in 10 said they often or always felt lonely.
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chairwoman of the Royal College of Psych-iatrists’ child and adolescent faculty, said a lack of face-to-face contact is threatening to blight life chances. She said: “We are getting reports of a rising number of mental health detentions among young people with acute problems.
“What we already know from current research is that despite more and more interaction with digital screens and interconnectedness online, mental health disorders are surging in children and young people.
Robert Halfon said parents are struggling to ensure their children are learning
“You cannot replace face-to-face contact between teachers and friends, and we have seen a surge in mental health problems and loneliness exposing the harms of the online world. We will see a lost generation, some of whom will be impacted for the rest of their lives in terms of mental health and life chances.”
Liz Cole, co-founder of the children’s campaign group Us For Them which supports schools staying open, said youngsters are “the pandemic’s forgotten victims”.
She said: “Millions of children are languishing at home and the schools shutdown is destroying their education, damaging their prospects and having a huge impact on their health and welfare. These are the pandemic’s forgotten victims.
“For the millions of parents who are trying their best to hold down a job while performing the duties of childcare and teacher at the same time, the pressure is simply becoming too much.” Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said the need to close schools represented a “failure of health policy”.
A recent study found one in 10 under 16s often or always felt lonely
Professor Woolhouse, who sits on government advisory group SPI-M, said: “I am not aware of any death of a healthy school-age child from coronavirus, and it is quite clear teachers are at no more risk than those from any other profession. Infection among teachers is as likely to happen in the staff room as the classroom.
“The new variant hasn’t helped but new variant or not, I see going into lockdown as a failure of health policy. We should have devised ways of responding to this crisis that don’t involve lockdown, especially closing schools.
“We have been taking a short-term view of this pandemic from the outset.
The chairman of the Education Select Committee said there are serious worries about mental health
“We are not looking at the effect of lockdown on children or anyone else. I told a House of Lords select committee that too much focus has been on the public health benefits of suppressing the epidemic without enough weight being placed on wider public health harms, for example, the cost to education, mental health, academic achievement, the economy.”
One deputy headteacher, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the impact on children’s long-term learning was incalculable.
They said: “I think in years to come this will be the scandal of Covid – not how we dealt with the sickness, the pandemic, it’s how we impacted on children.”
They added that parents of pupils were in tears and “tearing their hair out” as they battled to make sure their children did not fall behind.
“I do think that the Government is completely silent on what expectations of parents are. I see up and down the country there are parents who are literally in tears, trying to do a full-time job and trying to support their child’s learning.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have provided extensive support to help teachers and pup-ils access quality remote learning.”
He added that laptops and tablets were being delivered and millions had been put into video lessons.
“This will all help to make sure there is as little impact as possible on children’s education while they are learning from home.”
Parents who are having difficulties are urged to contact their school and, if relevant, their employer. The Government is urging employers to be “as flexible as possible.