It is time to treat our children as human beings

The following open letter – which was sent to Gavin Williamson by a group of academics in June 2020 – called for children to be “released from lockdown”. It created a false dichotomy in the schools debate which persists to this day, pitting children’s mental health against safety.

Coronavirus: Child psychologists highlight mental health risks of lockdown

Signatories to the letter include Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge, Prof Rory O’Connor, chair in health psychology at Glasgow University, broadcaster and author Prof Tanya Byron and Prof Uta Frith, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.

At the time this letter was written, there were many things we did not know about Covid-19 – such as children’s ability to transmit the virus – which we are now more certain of. However, the impact of schools running with classes of 30 – in cramped conditions with no social distancing – were predictable to those who followed the science.

We are saddened the narrative provoked by the letter has persisted. This is despite the obvious contribution which the full reopening of schools in September has made to the crisis we are now enduring, from which several jumbo jets worth of people currently die every day in the UK.

More shockingly still, the signatories of the letter above do not appear to have channelled their energy into encouraging innovation in distance learning and support. This could have served to bolster children’s mental health, and limit some of the harms caused by isolation.

It is a travesty that the potential for the Internet to be used as a “fantastic communications tool” has not been widely and publicly celebrated as an asset with which to support children through lockdowns. It was identified as such in the Bryron Review (2008) by Professor Tanya Byron, one of the signatories of the open letter.

The report identified the internet as offering “a creative and visual style of learning” affording “a positive and interactive experience”. It was also said to be a platform for children and young people to “express themselves and keep in touch” and is “a fantastic place to meet people and find support, friendship and happiness”.

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When we consider that internet based interventions such as iCBT are now well established psychological practice, it is a great sadness that the expertise of professionals in this field has not been channelled toward helping craft a recovery curriculum children desperately need.

Much could have been achieved to the benefit of all children, if the signatories of the letter above had offered open support to the teaching profession at a time of national crisis, and lobbied for educators to have their professional judgement respected.

The DfE could also have been more helpful in acknowledging discussion and nuanced debate on the true needs of children, rather than ploughing on with a “business as usual” curriculum.

Dear Gavin Williamson, could you tell parents what a fronted adverbial is? | Michael Rosen

ow are you getting on with fronted adverbials? I only ask because my timeline on social media is suddenly full of parents telling me that they don’t know what these are and they don’t know why their children need to know them.

This is why our 5 Point Plan, issued in advance of the partial closure in January 2020, included a call for reduction and reorganisation of the curriculum for at least 2 years.

We must stop pretending we can have business as usual, and demand the very best strategies we can to limit ALL harms to our children. We must treat children as people, not as an academic football between disciplines.

Independent Sage gets this right.

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