The move would devastate businesses, livelihoods and our much-needed holidays
The news that SAGE is advising ‘circuit breakers’ during all school holidays until next summer fills me with dread.
We all want to help prevent repeated waves of infection, but we have also to balance the potential psychological cost of such measures. I have three children, aged 15, 13 and eight, and the thought of keeping them trapped at home over repeated school holidays – without the prospect of days out or socialising – is profoundly worrying.
Children in this country have already suffered an undue amount during the pandemic. A teacher of Year 11 students – which are due to take GCSEs next June after unprecedented disruption to their education – tells me that the kids' stress levels are through the roof. They’ve been offered a mere three weeks extra to revise for their exams.
Some children are dealing with bereavement; some with the impact of unemployment on families. Many are missing days of school, as they’re isolated at home, waiting several days for test results; if one person at home develops a cough, everyone is off until the test result is returned, up to five days later.
I can see that logically, after such disruption, it makes sense to break circuits of transmission during the holidays, so that as much in-school teaching can continue as possible. But childhood is not all about exams and study, and learning is not all about being in school. Before the previous lockdown, when my 13-year-old son’s football club closed and he could no longer play at the weekends, he sank into a few days of depression, barely getting out of bed. This isn’t fair on our children.
It’s all the more frustrating in that it feels that all this could be avoided if preventative measures had been better managed. The track and trace system, at a cost of £10 million to the taxpayer (with a further £25 million to come this year) is still not effective. The ‘Eat out to Help Out’ scheme seemed to provide fertile breeding ground for the second wave. The premature encouragement of workers back to offices, and bewildering decision to allow students to spread across the country in September as normal – despite the knowledge of how this had seen the virus replicate in American colleges – have all brought us to this point.
After so many calamitous decisions, how can we trust that our government will do the right thing?
Most parents and carers have to rely on a cats-cradle of clubs, childcare and support networks to manage over the holidays at the best of times. If all these are taken away, we’re left with a break from school turned cruel limbo, with everyone trapped at home. Repeated holiday lockdowns would also further impact small businesses. UK hospitality industries are already on their knees, and shutdown during school holidays will deliver the final blow.
We’re still waiting to hear about the restrictions for October half term. Are thousands of holidays going to be cancelled? Will we be able to see families and friends at all? It might seem trivial compared to the suffering of many impacted by Covid 19, but this uncertainty impacts on businesses and on lives.
It’s deeply worrying that the three-tier system, despite its hardships, is uncertain to reduce the R rate. If a ‘circuit breaker’ is the only way to limit transmission, why not take a more nuanced approach? Why not shut down for two weeks before Christmas (when many schools wind down on serious work) so that students can get home for Christmas from university and people can get to see their families?
Stagger half terms or shorten the Easter holidays? Revert to home schooling for two weeks to break the chain, to reduce the impact on the domestic travel and hospitality industries? Use assessment for Year 11s and Year 13s rather than attempting GCSEs and A Level exams after so much disruption?
Above all, think of the nation as people, with needs, rather than pawns to be moved around a chessboard.