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  • Writer's pictureEquality Act Audits

Coronavirus and schools - what you need to know

The effect of closing schools on the spread of Coronavirus

Right from the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, keeping schools open has always been a priority. However, Sage has always said that closing schools (secondary school, in particular) was likely to bring the "R" number of the virus down.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has also said there is early evidence that the closure of primary schools is likely to have a greater effect than the closure of nurseries.

However, how long can schools reasonably stay closed?

It has been suggested (Dr Shamez Ladhani, the chief investigator of the ONS schools survey and a consultant at Public Health England - BBC News) that bringing the infection rate down in society is the best way to keep schools open and safe, with closing them only having a temporary effect on cases.

Closing schools does though have other risks, coronavirus aside. It brings with it a negative impact on children's mental health, education, development and wellbeing. The benefits and harms of closing the schools need to be weighed up very closely, undeniably a very difficult balancing act.

Do schools play a big part in spreading coronavirus?

There is no doubt that there is more spread among children when schools are open. There is also evidence that the spread dips due to holidays such as half term. It is very hard to tell though whether the levels of infection in schools just reflects the levels of the virus in the local communities in which they are situated. Some studies have shown this being the case.

Jenny Harries, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, recently said schools were "not a significant driver" of cases of Covid in communities, although she said children could definitely transmit the infection in schools and elsewhere.

Sage does recognise the challenge of judging the role of transmission in schools, saying

"It is difficult to quantify the size of this effect and it remains difficult to quantify the level of transmission taking place specifically within schools compared to other settings."

Are children at risk?

Children's risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus is small and this hasn't changed even with a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus circulating.

Despite a rise in the number of children infected, child health experts are not seeing a substantial rise in Covid-related illnesses in children in hospital.

One in three people are thought to have no symptoms when infected with the virus. This appears to be the case among children at least as often as adults.

Among pupils in primary schools, evidence shows that there is limited spread of coronavirus.

Children of secondary school age are different, however - they appear to be more able to pass the virus on.

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