BBC. One-in-20 pupils at home with lockdown-related issues. 2020. (accessed 23 September 2019)

We are in for a ‘long, hard winter’ indeed

02 August 2020
Volume 1 · Issue 4

School leaders are warning of a ‘long, hard winter’ ahead as the fight against COVID-19 continues – and it is hard to disagree.

Indeed, as I write, it is difficult to feel positive about the seemingly inevitable second wave. We have only just begun this new term and yet the number of schools unable to fully open due to COVID-19 has jumped to 4% in the space of just one week (from the 10th of September to the 17th) (see page 154). At the time of writing, we only have 87% of children attending state schools.

Along with the clear impact this is having on the education of those children affected, the continuing large numbers of pupils missing school – the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, estimated recently that one in 20 children (roughly 400 000) were out of school on any one day due to COVID-19-related reasons (BBC, 2020) – raises ongoing and serious safeguarding concerns.

We already know that during the pandemic referrals to social services dropped and incidents of domestic violence increased, but the lockdown also saw a huge spike in reports of county lines referrals (see page 160). This will only add to the workload, stress and anxieties of school nurses and school teachers and leaders.

At the heart of the problems are the catastrophic delays in the time it takes for pupils and school staff to access tests and test results. On top of this, the rising infection rates across the UK are creating a perfect storm. Where will this end? With schools closing again? With another 5 months of remote education?

It is hard not to feel angry with the government, which rushed the country out of lockdown this summer, seemingly prioritising the economy over people's health.

It is hard not to feel angry with Boris Johnson's mixed and unclear messaging around the virus which, I believe, has led to fatigue and confusion among the public and to social distancing and other safety measures slipping away slowly and surely – especially among young adults.

It is hard not to feel angry at those members of the public who refuse to respect hygiene and social distancing measures, forcing entire cities and regions to lock down again and causing chaos for children's education.

I am furious when I see health and education professionals being pushed to breaking point as they deal with incredibly difficult decisions every day about overcoming staff shortages and keeping everyone safe.

I know, however, that school nurses and school leaders will continue to put the wellbeing of their students and colleagues first – no matter what the official guidance says and no matter how much confusion and uncertainty comes from our political leaders in Number 10.

I would also like to draw your attention to the letter on page 161, ‘Children, dying parents and COVID-19’, which raises a very important issue and starts an urgent conversation about protecting children's rights.