Tier 4: Schools need to shut.  

Written by Josephine Woods, 29/12/2020 

Schools around the country have been forced to remain open by the government, which along with various other factors has led to a huge surge in COVID cases. The fact that children are the main spreaders of this virus has been widely acknowledged. Natalie Grover wrote for the Guardian, ‘the prevalence of infection with Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is highest among secondary school-age children, which suggests they are a considerable source of community transmission’1. 

The only people surprised by the information that keeping at minimum 30 children, the youngest of whom are unlikely to fully understand social distancing, in a small space (like most classrooms where it is impossible for students to social distance), of which the majority are not wearing masks, the only people surprised the evidence that the situation just described leads to a rise in cases of an extremely infectious disease is our government. A narrow-minded focus and refusal to see the forest for the trees has led to an explosion of cases, many of which can be linked back to schools.  

The government is responsible for this rise in cases. Tier 689 won’t bring down infections unless the government makes the move that they should have weeks ago: closed down schools. This doesn’t have to be completely, as schools can safely socially distance while having vulnerable and key worker children in classrooms as long as those children who can do the remote learning. This is not a perfect solution, but it is much better than the one the government is proposing. It means students who are able to do remote learning, the majority of children, aren’t in schools and spreading the virus needlessly. Everyone who can is already working from home. Why does this not apply to schools?  

The idea that schools might need to shut has already been presented – by the very same government who are suing schools who fear for the children, children’s families, staff and wider community.  Schools have been ready to go to remote learning since October because the government forced them to ready the equipment and plans that they might need if infections rose. This caused a huge headache for teachers, who had to translate all their lessons into online learning material in a month. Then the government threatened to sue when schools tried to use that equipment in the circumstances the equipment was designed for. Donna Ferguson writing for the Guardian reports that, ‘The government is using its emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act to threaten to use legal action against headteachers in England who want to allow their pupils to learn remotely in the run-up to Christmas.’2.  

Why do the government want to force known super spreading areas to remain open and full of people? It is a decision the government retracked a few days later with the announcement of London going into Tier 4, quickly followed by many other areas. The government is now continuing to push back the date on which children return to school. But they have a responsibility, a decision. The need to make up their minds – either they care about students, their families and teachers’ lives or they don’t. Don’t make more Tiers if the exception to the rule is the main spreader. Don’t lift restrictions for a large holiday if students aren’t allowed to remote learn so that they are safe to enjoy that holiday. Don’t make masks mandatory everywhere except schools. The government’s stance on that last one is still, according to their website: ‘Nationwide, the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary in education settings generally because a system of controls, applicable to all education environments, provides additional mitigating measures.’3  

Except that it is impossible to social distance in a class of thirty. The minimum of people that students come into contact with every day. Teachers, since September, have been trying to warn the government. Those teachers were ignored. Tier 4 is the result. Boris Johnson, you are faced with a choice. Do you care enough about students’ lives, and the lives of those that students so easily spread the virus to? Or do you care about refusing to admit you were wrong and continuing to make super spreaders the exception to national lockdowns? The government needs to shut the schools. If they don’t, this pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.  

1.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/14/what-know-spread-covid-19-children-government-schools. Published 14/12/2020. Natalie Grover, the Guardian, ‘What do we know about the spread of Covid-19 among children in the UK?’ 

2.https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/12/minister-threatens-school-heads-over-pre-christmas-online-lessons. Published 12/12/2020. Donna Ferguson, the Guardian, ‘Coronavirus: minister threatens headteacher over pre-Christmas online lessons’ 

3.https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-in-education/face-coverings-in-education. Updated 27/11/2020.