• Dr Andy Raffles

Return to School & Preschool (2020)

Updated: Sep 3

Right now, there is a major focus on schools, not least because pupils in Scotland have returned to full time education. The situation in England remains rather more frenetic than in other parts of the UK, but with support most parents should begin to feel more confident in sending their children back to school, either starting primary or secondary school, or nursery, or returning after a very prolonged break.

However, as in other areas of controversy, the dilemma of what to do about reopening schools during a pandemic has opened a flood of opinions, some well informed and others less so.

As a start point it should be remembered that social and emotional development is a crucial element in a child’s life and school is somewhere for this development to take place alongside the educational elements provided.

From the evidence available currently, usually from local household studies as schools closed early in the lockdown, younger, namely primary aged and below children, are less likely to pick up the virus, and even less likely to be ill, which means they are less likely to transmit the virus. However, it is the contacts these younger children make which will determine if these factors, result in no increase in virus detection rates. In the educational environment itself social distancing is a challenge for the younger children, so the adults responsible for their care in this environment must ensure at the very least, that they practice sensible risk assessment for staff who may be vulnerable and of course, good hand hygiene.

The situation for older children and young people in, secondary and tertiary education is slightly different. There are limited studies on the transmission of virus and illness rates resulting from restarting schools, so the rules of social distancing, hand hygiene, mask use and avoiding public transport to get to school will apply. Again, the vulnerable adults should have a risk assessment and due precautions taken. In this situation a mixture of face to face, and remote learning should be continued, as it has proven effective to date.

Test and trace will underpin management of the return to school, and not surprisingly as testing rates go up then more detection will occur, and action taken to contain these at a much more local level. There will of course be outbreaks and some infection in schools; the important thing is that they are managed, that local communities are supported and that governments have the right set of preparations in place.

Shielding advice is currently paused but, if it were to restart, we need to ensure we don’t cause harm by keeping children isolated and unnecessarily away from school and other activities.