In less than 24 hours 1,633 of the UK’s paediatricians the UK’s paediatricians have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling on the Government to publish a clear plan for getting children back to school as the first step in a national recovery programme for children and young people.
The letter was sent to UK-based members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and is the first time the College has asked members to sign a letter to the Prime Minister. It was signed by more than 500 members within an hour of being sent out.
Professor Russell Viner, President of the RCPCH, said: “The response to this letter in such a short time shows the very real concern paediatricians have for the mental and physical health of children who have now missed many months of education and the broader benefits schools bring.
“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.”
Dr Liz Marder, a consultant community paediatrician working in Nottingham who signed the letter within two minutes of it being sent out, said:
“Up until now, very few children have been directly affected by COVID-19. But, indirectly, many children and young people have suffered enormously from the impact that the pandemic has had on their daily lives. It is our most vulnerable children, such as those from disadvantaged families or those with additional needs, who may suffer most.
“Getting children safely back into education as soon as we can has to be a priority if we are to avoid further damage to the health, well-being and life chances of so many of our young people.
The letter argues that the current interruption to schooling is “without precedent” and that, for many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the health and wellbeing interventions schools provide alongside education “are the difference between surviving and thriving”.
It notes that: “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to leave school without GCSEs in English and maths compared with better-off peers. 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.
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