Schools must come before pubs and shops in a lockdown, according to the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield.
Speaking about the possibility of future lockdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the commissioner says schools should be the last places to be closed, after pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.
“The government’s promise that all children will be back to school after the summer holidays is a step in the right direction. However, if a second wave occurs, children must be at the heart of coronavirus planning,” she said.
“That means schools must be the first to reopen and the last to close during any local lockdowns,” she added.
She said it was important to control the spread of the virus “but it should not be automatically assumed that this requires closing schools – except as a last resort”.
It’s the children’s commissioner’s job to make sure the government takes children into account when making rules and policies that might affect their lives.
The children commissioner’s comments come after scientists warned the UK government that the country’s contact tracing system isn’t good enough to prevent a second wave of coronavirus when schools re-open in September.
In a study – published by the medical journal The Lancet – they say their findings should be a wake-up call to the government, and not an excuse to keep schools shut.
What else did the children’s commissioner say?
Ms Longfield says to prevent entire year groups from being sent home, there should be regular coronavirus testing of teachers and pupils too.
“Regular testing must also be in place for teachers and pupils, to reassure parents,” she said.
She added that if schools do have to close they must remain open for kids of keyworkers and vulnerable children as they were before the summer holidays.
The commissioner also said that in the event of another national lockdown, the government should extend its laptop scheme, so that children having to learn at home are given the proper equipment they need.
And with evidence that lockdown is leading to a rise in mental health issues among some children, Ms Longfield said local NHS mental health teams should provide advice and support to schools.
“If the choice has to be made in a local area about whether to keep pubs or schools open, then schools must always take priority.”
In her briefing, she added that it’s important for children to be kept up-to-date with the latest information about coronavirus and said the government should hold press conferences for children.
“Children should be allowed and encouraged to submit questions to any press briefings, just as adults were in the previous daily press briefings,” she said.
The government’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Getting all children back into the classroom full-time at the start of next month is a national priority, as this is the best place for them to be.”
He added that the government has “always been and will continue to be guided by the best scientific and medical advice”.