Why Closing Schools During The Pandemic Was Child Abuse

The Spectator this week ran the story I reproduce below, in which journalist Ross Clark asked the question ‘How much did the pandemic harm children?’ Actually the question being answered by Clark really is, ‘How much did Governments’ closures of schools during the pandemic harm children?’ And the answer: ‘A lot’.

The extent of the damage on child health, and on young people’s learning, that closing schools for months on end during 2020 and into 2021 is shocking. In my view, it amounts to child abuse. Having lived with a junior school teacher for 35 years, and how having a daughter who is also a junior school teacher, I learned very early on in the pandemic about all of these consequences. Both my wife and daughter predicted them from Day 1 of the closures and were resolutely opposed to this Government policy. And during the early months of the school closures evidence quickly mounted and some voices spoke out, for example this story ‘The devastating toll of the pandemic on children‘ by Nick Tiggle. And the pressure group UsForThem formed during 2020 to speak out for children’s rights and to seek Parliamentary legislation to prevent future Governments closing schools during a pandemic.

The real question then to ask is, ‘Why did Governments’ close schools when anyone who knew anything about child education and development could have predicted everything that Ross Clark draws attention to in the article below?’ … And the answer to that, for me, is threefold: the overbearing power gained by the medical elite — was allowed to gain — during the early months of the pandemic’; a quiescent political opposition in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats; and a media focused on the dying rather than on the life and welfare of children.


How much did the pandemic harm children?
By Ross Clark, 30 May 2022

For many people now, Covid-19 seems like ancient history: life has returned, largely, to normal. But the knock-on effects of Covid restrictions have left a very long trail in their wake. A survey of school counsellors by the New York Times revealed just how deep-set the issues caused by months of missed schooling during the pandemic might be. Some 362 counsellors (who looked after pupils aged from five to 18) were asked in a survey whether they had witnessed greater levels of negative behaviours in pupils compared with before the pandemic. Almost every counsellor (94 per cent) said they had witnessed higher levels of anxiety and depression in the children, 86 per cent said pupils found it harder to focus on classwork, 72 per cent said more children were breaking classroom rules and 52 per cent said more pupils were skipping classes. One counsellor told how their pupils had ‘skipped over years of social and emotional development’.

Those surveyed spoke of children who had become ‘frozen, socially and emotionally’ at the age they were before the pandemic struck. Some 88 per cent of counsellors said children had greater trouble regulating their emotions after lockdown, 67 per cent reported that children now had lower levels of self-esteem and 73 per cent felt that pupils had more problems solving conflicts with friends; 51 per cent said more students were getting into physical fights. Worryingly, in the face of yet another school massacre, 3 per cent of counsellors had noticed that children were more likely to bring guns into school – while 11 per cent reported pupils were more likely to carry other weapons than before Covid. Forty-four per cent of counsellors reported more pupils engaging in acts of vandalism, 38 per cent said more pupils were taking drugs and 31 per cent said more children were engaging in age-inappropriate sexual behaviour.

These results mirror the findings from the UK government, which said in a report that children’s mental and emotional wellbeing was ‘substantially impacted’ by the pandemic. A study of 11- to 12-year-olds found a 44 per cent increase in symptoms of depression while disruptive behaviours increased by 76 per cent compared with before the pandemic.

Studies such as these will continue to feed into the various inquiries into the handling of the pandemic. Prior to Covid, Britain appeared to have a very clear policy: that society, including schools, would stay open during a pandemic. That was rapidly abandoned in the early weeks as panic over possible death rates set in and country after country adopted Chinese-style lockdowns. As the extent of the harm caused by repeated lockdowns – especially on children – becomes steadily more apparent, perhaps in the face of another pandemic we would think twice before closing huge swathes of society.”

The above article is reproduced from The Spectator, Monday 30 May, 2022.

Mike Hulme, Cambridge