Dr Catherine Carroll-Meehan, Head of School of Education, Languages and Linguistics:
“Closing schools is the right decision. What families, children and schools need is some certainty. It is a shame that the Government do not take decisions in a more certain and timely manner. Taking the decision to close schools on Sunday when the Prime Minister was on the Andrew Marr show (or last week when more areas were put into tier 4, would have allowed schools to have inset days today to plan for the rest of the week at least. Notifying teachers at 8 pm, 12 hours before they would be expected to go to work is unacceptable.
“Children learn at home and school and lockdown three should encourage informal learning especially in the early years and lower primary. In times of change, children need consistency, clarity and care. Schools, teachers and teaching assistants provide that for children. We need to see this in the round too, children during the Blitz were displaced with homes bombed and moved away from family and their education disrupted, we need to learn lessons about the impact of this type of trauma on children and build in time to consider mental health impact rather than focussing solely on targets and outcomes. Mental wellbeing should be prioritised once schools reopen.
“I am very concerned about children living in cold homes and parents having to make a choice between heating and food. There are opportunities for the government to extend funding to families on free school meals to heat their homes.
“This is a very troubling time with the uncertainty that has been part of our lives for 12 months. For some children, they will struggle to remember life how it was and the panic and state of flux is unsettling for all.
“My daughter is a Teach First trainee at a Primary school in Peterborough. Yesterday she drove back ready for work today. This evening she is driving back home. For us this is inconvenient, she was prepared with things she brought home in December to teach online and the inability of the government to make decisions impacts on the physical and mental health of everyone. She will have to teach her year 2s online. These children had made a lot of progress last term after missing six months of school. Sadly, this progress is likely to stall because teaching year 2s online is not simple, it is hard enough in a classroom with 26 individuals all with different learning needs and abilities.”
The impact on children and education
Dr Emma Maynard, School of Education, Languages and Linguistics:
“The immediate closure of school sites is a huge issue for children and families, with significant risks of isolation, mental health stressors and learning loss. In particular, news of the cancellation of public exams will be a major stress to families and it is essential that the government clarify this as an absolute priority.
“I hope to see significant resourcing given to helping disadvantaged children regain lost ground, and that mental health support, already under-funded, is bolstered for the likely additional needs these children will experience as a result of the pandemic.”
The impact on the NHS and hospitals
Dr Isobel Ryder, Associate Head, Programmes in the School of Health and Care Professions:
“Pandemic-fatigue is now evident in the general population and this is increasingly apparent both locally and nationally - distancing measures do not appear to be having the same impact as the national lockdown in the spring of 2020. The new variant is more contagious and as a result of this and usual winter illnesses, the health sector is under extreme pressure. The medical and nursing workforce see the direct impact of this pandemic in a way that the general public do not. Many colleagues are stretched and exhausted by the ongoing physical and emotional demands of this pandemic, coupled with shift work, alongside their personal and family circumstances. Medical and nursing professionals may be relieved that this message is now articulated in a way that is clearer.
“The public now have to step up again and be responsible enough to take this information seriously. The challenging issues for those working in the NHS, health and care sector continue to be forming kind and caring relationships with extremely unwell patients, while managing difficult conversations with individuals, their families and colleagues, in incredibly difficult circumstances.”
Dr Simon Kolstoe, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health & Care Professions:
"Hospital admissions are all that matters. If they are rising to the point of overwhelming the NHS it is clear that greater restrictions are needed. Rather than focussing on the number of positive COVID-19 tests in the community, I am glad that the focus is now directly on the number of people entering hospital. If this number is indeed rising as rapidly as we are being told, we must do something or else risk an acceleration of deaths if appropriate care cannot be provided. We do have evidence from March/April that a full lockdown does work, and hopefully the vaccine roll out will start to have an effect soon. The irritating thing is the government u-turning and giving conflicting messages on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this undermines trust in the important advice that does need to be communicated and followed."
Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten, Reader (Associate Professor) in Childhood Studies, School of Education, Languages and Linguistics:
“Children and young people living in families where the experiences of the previous lockdown may have been particularly difficult and challenging will require additional and targeted support with their mental health and wellbeing, especially in light of a new more restricted lockdown - these include young families, parents with long-term physical or mental health issues, families on low incomes or unemployed. Other groups at risk of higher depression and anxiety are young adults, people living alone and those living in urban areas.
“The ongoing pandemic, lockdown and new variant of the coronavirus, combined with social media messages of children being ‘super-spreaders’ and adults (especially the elderly) as the vulnerable group, will cause intense concern, worries and anxieties for children, and have severe impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Worries about losing their parents, carers and loved ones to the virus, mixed messages from the Government about the different tiers, lockdown and schools open/closed, social isolation, as well as uncertainties about exams, tests and school progress no doubt all have a potentially detrimental effect on children and young people’s wellbeing.
“Social distancing and lockdown affect parents/carers and children from ethnic minority communities in specific ways, e.g. due to being in low paid 'essential' work, living in more densely populated/crowded situations, resulting in challenges with education and attainment. Existing inequalities are exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdown, such as in relation to teacher support/expectations, language barriers, socio-economic disadvantage and institutional racism, affecting children from a wide range of ethnic minority communities.
“I work with Racial Equality Councils and we find that young people from ethnic minority communities have consistently worse mental health than other groups across every measure throughout the pandemic, with higher levels of depression, anxiety, thoughts of death or self-harm, reported rises in racial abuse, hate crime and loneliness, and lower life satisfaction and happiness.
“Without any clear measures in place to support their specific needs and centralise their voices, this is likely to get worse. Current measures for support do not engage enough with the unique needs of children and families from a range of ethnic minority communities, once their voices are heard we can start by implementing support systems that centralise their needs.
“What can we do: work with communities to develop policies and responses that take account of local circumstances and needs and build social cohesion, including trauma-informed practice and community-based support to enhance mental health and wellbeing.”