Coronavirus: Was It The Right Decision To Close Schools?

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School Closure Coronavirus


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Does closing schools provide any benefit to the general public during the Coronavirus pandemic?

A paper published by UCL suggests keeping pupils off school has little impact, even with other lockdown measures during Coronavirus.

Misinformation and fake news

“Much of the scholarship on fake news focuses on narrow forms of news communication” (Higdon, 2020). This can broadly be true of how the BBC reported this research on 7th April: “This is an important study that confirms what many of us suspected, namely that the public health benefits of school closures were not proportionate to the social and economic costs” (BBC, April 2020). I have two thoughts:

  1. Define proportionate.
  2. Would we rather profit in our economy or protect the lives of our young people?

Where is the evidence?

A recommendation from one of the research authors, Professor Viner, said: “There’s a whole range of things that schools could do to reopen in a way that involves social distancing at schools but keeps schools open.” School closures were deployed rapidly across mainland China and Hong Kong for COVID-19. However, there are no data on the relative contribution of school closures to transmission control and “strong evidence is not available for the effectiveness of these practices.”

How was this evidence gathered?

Published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, the academics recommended that “policymakers need to be aware of the equivocal evidence when considering school closures for COVID-19” in comparison to how journalists report the headlines and the misinform the general public. The research reports that 107 countries had implemented national school closures by March 18, 2020.

Of great importance when considering any research is to understand how the findings were evaluated. The researchers screened 616 articles and used 16. You can view the methodology here. The researchers searched the WHO Global Research Database on COVID-19 using the term “school”, which only retrieved one article which was excluded from the results. Therefore, they searched again using the search terms “child”, “children”, “childhood”, “infant”, “baby”, “babies”, “pediatric”, and “paediatric”.

For school closures

As cited in the paper:

  1. School closure presents an apparently common-sense method of dramatically reducing spread of disease.
  2. A rapid review found evidence that, during unplanned school closures, children’s activities and contacts decreased but did not cease, with some evidence that this was particularly so among older children and those whose parents disagreed with closures
  3. Staying open for vulnerable pupils and children of health-care workers? This is a less strict intervention than school closure, although there is no evidence supporting its use separately to full closure
  4. School closures are based on evidence and assumptions from influenza outbreaks that they reduce social contacts between students and therefore interrupt the transmission
  5. The evidence for the effectiveness of school closures and other school social distancing measures comes almost entirely from influenza outbreaks, for which transmission of the virus tends to be driven by children
  6. Four systematic reviews of the effects of school closure on influenza outbreaks or pandemics suggest that school closure can be a useful control measure, although the effectiveness of mass school closures is often low.
  7. A 2020 systematic review of school closures and other social distancing measures during influenza outbreaks also found compelling evidence that closures reduced transmission, particularly among school-aged children
  8. Evidence of COVID-19 transmission through child–child contact or through schools is not yet available.

Against school closures

As cited in the paper:

  1. Currently, the evidence to support the national closure of schools to combat COVID-19 is very weak.
  2. In previous coronavirus outbreaks, evidence suggested that transmission in schools was very low or absent; there was no evidence of spread of the infection in schools (Source)
  3. Emerging epidemiological data suggest little evidence of transmission of COVID-19 through schools in China
  4. Evidence from the coronavirus outbreak control is scarce, we must turn to evidence for the benefits of school closures from influenza epidemics and pandemics.

Policymaker recommendations

What is critical for policymakers to know is there is a lack of evidence. Two, economic costs are high for everyone, not just those directly affected by school closures. Three, it is too early to understand the benefits of school closures and how this relates to the costs or attainment.

Any form of speculation is unhelpful and interpreting research is critical when making key decisions. For example, who has conducted any research on the impact of school workers? Only yesterday, the Department for Education suggested that teachers do not require personal protective equipment!

I want our schools to reopen as much any parent, teacher or politician, particularly for our disadvantaged pupils, but if we want everyone to isolate to help reduce the pandemic, this includes our pupils and schools too.

Download the full paper.

7 thoughts on “Coronavirus: Was It The Right Decision To Close Schools?

  1. Thank you for this. I kept hearing about this research and could not understand how it could be the case. I now know the research hasn’t really been done. Hopefully our politicians will not just take the headlines of the research and dig deeper as you have done.

  2. Here in New Zealand (where schools are now closed) our largest cluster of infections of COVID-19 is from a High School. That’s pretty strong evidence.

  3. We only have a few clusters in NZ, but a high school and wedding are the biggest clusters. We have daily updates on our health website and news channels.

  4. Thank you for summarising the points so well. I think it is imperative we hold in mind that there is not enough evidence yet and this needs to be determined before decisions are made that not only affect our children and families, but also the dedicated staff that work with them, both physically and emotionally.

  5. To help teachers and educators meet the challenge of delivering effective and engaging learning online I have published a 10-part video series called “10 Ways To Teach Online Effectively”, which you can view here:

    Here’s a complete list of all 10 episodes:
    1. How to add narration to PowerPoint presentations for remote presenting –
    2. How to convert PowerPoint presentations to videos that can be shared or uploaded –
    3. How to create an engaging and well-structured website for free using Google Sites –
    4. How to use Google Forms to create quizzes and scavenger hunts for fun formative assessment –
    5. How to use free screen capture software and tools for recording your screen –
    6. How to use online whiteboards for whiteboard demonstrations, videos or collaboration –
    7. How to implement differentiation through online learning –
    8. How to create and share your own subject podcast for free –
    9. Online formative assessment tools that make students want to take the tests –
    10. How to add audio and video comments to Google Docs, and use comment banks –

    I hope these prove helpful in these uncertain and challenging times.

  6. If there are reports daily that more people are dying, or that there is a consistent rates of death, people not abiding by social distancing and the government continuing to enforce this message each day, with reported 743M pieces of PPE equipment distributed throughout the UK in the recent month, then how will opening school’s be more beneficial?

    Parents won’t send their children in, as evidenced the week within closing the school due to the risk factors or scaremongering or, parents will send their kids in, who are A. Risks B. May contain the virus, as they will see it as “child minding”, again evidenced within the final week of closure. Additionally, how will opening up a school with 500-1000+ students be a good move for anyone’s health. Attendance figures will remain low, staff will remain conscious, certain teaching materials may be delivered. At least by everyone being off, using an online platform, preparing lessons, having time away and being safe, is protecting everyone and more beneficial for the long-term.

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