A ticking mental health bomb – why school closures should be as short as possible

A ticking mental health bomb – why school closures should be as short as possible

Like most teachers, I listened to the announcement that all schools were to close with dread and a very heavy heart.

Undoubtedly the government needs to try everything to flatten the curve of rising Covid-19 cases but I fear long-term closures of schools could be a very heavy price to pay.

First and foremost I worry for the mental health and well-being of our young people if schools are closed for too long. Taking everything away that is familiar to them – routine, friends, socialising – could have a very detrimental impact. I particularly fear for the children for whom school is their safety net.

There will also inevitably be a detrimental impact on their learning – especially the longer schools are closed.

A short-term closure can be weathered, but remote learning is no substitute for a proper educational routine and contact with teachers.

There is so much more that happens in a school than simply the exchange of information even if this is done in an innovative way. Children need regular encouragement and a disciplined structure to exist within.

Accountability is such an important part of teaching and without proper contact, this will be difficult to maintain. Many students who are already struggling with their learning will find it easier to do nothing rather than address the problems they face with work – and there will be no teachers on hand to deal with this and guide them through.

Talk to adults who have attempted to do correspondence courses and they will tell you it is a lonely experience, which requires enormous levels of self-discipline to maintain.

Children are also unlikely to stay in their houses and will want to meet up with each other and it will be virtually impossible to stop this. An important part of growing up is socialisation and children learn this by working alongside their peers and absorbing the ethos of a school and those that run it.

There is also likely to be a long-term economic cost as children will be missing important elements of their education and this cannot be replaced. We will find at some point down the road that these children will be less educationally developed when they are adults than others who have not gone through this.

We also need to consider all the people who will now have to look after their children during the working week. How many of these people will not be able to go to work? How will this affect businesses and essential services?

I would implore with the government that if they are contemplating a much longer-term shutdown to consider the educational and social cost and balance this against the health risks.

In the end, governments might be able to claim that they have finally beaten Coronavirus but at what long-term cost?

Would it be possible to reopen schools sooner rather than later if more stringent measures are put in place, such as keeping staff and children with underlying health conditions at home for longer?

I think any other course of action other than a limited shutdown will be disastrous on so many levels and may well have serious consequences that will stay with us for years.