“We are following the science” is the constant refrain from the government. The problem with this is that the government gets its advice from scientists who are on the government payroll and as the saying goes: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. All employers demand that their employees are “on message” and don’t contradict their employer. We feel that SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) is conflicted by its relationship with the government and prefer to get our scientific advice from Independent SAGE, which has no such conflicts.
Independent Sage produced advice for the reopening of schools on February 5th (https://www.independentsage.org/the-return-to-school-a-consultation-document/).
Independent Sage does not support the general, reopening of schools on or around the 8th March.
“He who pays the piper…” equally applies to the government. The government is sponsored by the bosses and they “call the tune” for government. The bosses want schools open so that they can act as a child minding service for workers with children. Their concern is for the short term profitability of their businesses and not for the health of their workers, and their families and their communities. Independent Sage is more concerned with the longer term recovery from the Pandemic and its statements are, therefore, more credible.
Independent SAGE proposes that four things need to be addressed before schools can be reopened safely, none of which has happened.
- Tighter regulation of everyday activities to bring down infection rates more quickly.
The lockdown has only been partial and not followed as universally as previously. Moreover, “there must be greater support for people to stay at home.” This has not happened and 1 in 5 workers who could work from home are being forced to attend unsafe workplaces and not everyone who could be getting furlough pay are getting it or paid if they are instructed to self-isolate. “The school environment should be transformed to minimise the risk of infection transmission.” Social distancing, ventilation and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are some of the main mitigations which are yet to be properly addressed.
2. The reopening of schools should be a priority and happen in advance of reopening other sectors of society. It should not be tied to arbitrary dates but be based on explicit public health criteria.
By giving a date for the reopening of schools rather than the infection rates in the areas where schools are situated as the reopening criterion, the government is not following independent scientific advice.
3. Given the priority placed on schooling, it is essential to ensure that staff are available to teach and to operate schools. Accordingly, once the nine priority groups, based on vulnerability, have been fully vaccinated (including vulnerable teachers), the benefits of vaccinating school staff should be considered seriously by the JCVI alongside the claims of other groups. This will reduce staff absences and hence allow schools to remain fully open, providing students with a full curriculum.
Teachers and other groups of essential workers will not be given priority for receiving the vaccine.
4. Funding needs to be put in place to help provide for children whose mental health and learning has been adversely impacted by the Pandemic.
Funding has been promised for private tutoring companies but it is doubtful that the children who have lost the most ground will get it and as Independent Sage points out: “losses are disproportionately concentrated amongst more deprived and vulnerable groups.”
If we are going to follow the advice provided by independent scientific experts, it is clear that opening all schools on March 8th is asking for trouble.