Over 1,500 paediatricians have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to make the reopening of schools a priority.
The letter argues that the interruption to schooling is ‘without precedent’ and that, for many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the health and wellbeing interventions schools provide ‘are the difference between surviving and thriving’.
Organised by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the letter goes on to warn that the pandemic threatens to deepen ‘structural inequalities’.
‘Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to leave school without GCSEs in English and maths compared with better-off peers,’ it says.
‘Left unchecked, COVID-19 will exacerbate existing problems and deepen structural social and health inequalities.'
The RCPCH is calling on the UK Government to urgently publish a clear plan for getting children back to school, together with resources to implement it, as the first step in a national recovery programme for children and young people.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, commented: ‘Children need their schools. Every child deserves to have an uninterrupted education and teachers, school leaders and local authorities have worked tirelessly to provide that before and during COVID.
‘But teachers do so much more than teach and schools provide so much more than education.
‘Schools are vital to the wellbeing of children and young people, providing a range of services from vaccinations to mental health support.
‘Schools are also where at-risk children are looked out for and supported. Right now, we don’t know how some of the most vulnerable children in our society are faring because they are outside of the safety net that school provides.
‘And, of course, schools are also where our children run around, play and laugh and argue with each other. They need to return to that sort of a healthy normality as soon as possible.’