Open our schools fully, holding back is harming our children


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SOMETHING STRUCK ME a few weeks back when I watched the UK Prime Minister set out plans for children to go back to school, and his opposite number in Labour largely agreeing with him.

Why are things so different in Scotland?

Why has the issue of fighting for the rights of children been left to a bunch of mums on Facebook?

Creating and running UsForThem Scotland has been an eye-opener for many of us, especially as we don’t have experience in the public eye or in politics.

We only ever had one objective: for schools to reopen normally and stay open.

And we were comfortable arguing this simple point for two reasons.

The consistent evidence from abroad and here (including the Scottish Government’s own experts) was that children were mercifully unlikely to suffer from Covid-19 nor spread it.

Any transmission that was occurring seemed to be adult-to-adult, and studies showed (and continue to show) that teachers weren’t at increased risk from Coronavirus despite going into work each day.

The second reason is even more compelling: the sheer harm caused to young people and their families from being out of school.

To begin with this was mainly anecdotal, given how long it takes to gather, analyse and publish official statistics.

Our group on Facebook which now has nearly 14,000 members, began as a grassroots campaign to generate activity which would lead to schools reopening.

We wanted to gather everyone together and impress upon politicians just how vital this was.

But over time it has become something of a support group.

Almost every day a mother or father shares a heart-breaking story of how their child has changed, how their behaviour has altered vastly, and how their mental health has plummeted by virtue of not being in school with their peers.

And on each of these posts, dozens of comments then follow from Dumfries to the Highlands and everywhere in between of families facing the same nightmare.

Now this is being backed up by the data.

We know poorer children are less likely to attend the digital classroom, we know families can’t access the technology they need, and we know children aren’t engaging in the way they would in person.

In health terms, a Freedom of Information response we submitted showed the number of girls being admitted to hospital for eating disorders had rocketed.

Only last week, it was revealed more kids were waiting for mental health treatment than ever, and a Scottish Government report stated a dependence on “digital” meetings for psychological first appointments sparked a rise in those failing to turn up.

But still there’s near-silence from practically all of the politicians.

It’s hard to work out why.

Perhaps we can write Labour off because of its sheer dependence on the unions.

After all, the EIS – Scotland’s largest teaching union – has behaved so utterly disgracefully throughout this pandemic that Labour is probably too scared to speak up.

Every intervention the union makes is laced with bitterness and vengeance.

When it saw the positive coverage UsForThem Scotland was receiving, it made up a lie and circulated it to the press.

The union claimed our members were being encouraged to film teachers carrying out home-learning lessons and share them – to the point it sent us a “cease and desist” style letter.

It knew, given the severity of the accusation, that this mud would stick, and therefore make it more difficult for us to get the message out there.

In fact, its focus was on an exchange where kids were being encouraged to make video diaries to help each other through the abject lockdown misery the EIS had helped to inflict.

Its leadership keeps talking about parents expecting teachers to baby-sit their children.

We’ve never said that – we clearly value teachers and the skills and commitment they have far more highly than the EIS does.

What of the Conservatives?

I thought they’d have been passionate advocates for schools reopening normally but, barring the odd intervention in parliament, they too had been remarkably sheepish about the matter.

Perhaps this was because the Conservative UK government, up until February anyway, had been equally pathetic on the issue of keeping schools open, and they felt they couldn’t highlight that deficiency?

Bizarrely, and for several months, it was actually the SNP who seemed most committed to schools staying open.

Week after week, Nicola Sturgeon would stand at her Covid-19 briefing and promise parents that fully functioning schools were her priority, even in the face of stern criticism from the unions and idiotic self-publicists on social media, most of whom seem to be male.

In Scottish politics, it was only former First Minister Jack McConnell and Reform MSP Michelle Ballantynewho repeatedly fought the corner of children, who were suffering more as every day went past.

So why have things started to deviate south of the border, where cases of Coronavirus are actually higher?

Is it just a case that the penny has dropped there sooner?

Do politicians in Westminster care more about an increase in self-harming and psychological torture being experienced by young people?

Maybe they just have more of a spine?

Either way, we now have a situation where schools in England reopened yesterday in full, and will stay open until the summer which, incidentally, arrives up to four weeks later for youngsters south of the border.

In Scotland our young people have been left to rot and, what’s more, no-one seems to care.

So, if politicians of all stripes don’t want to listen to the harms that have been caused to an entire generation, maybe they could pay attention to the positive stories coming out of the small cohort who have been allowed back?

Nursery-aged children and those in primaries one-to-three have been back in action for a couple of weeks now, and the feedback of parents has been tremendous.

The older ones have been captivated by the education on offer from face-to-face teaching, which again goes to prove just how wonderful a job they all do.

And in those at the younger end of the scale, there have been notable developmental progressions, the type of benefits that can only be received by allowing children to mix with each other.

This period, which has been going on for almost a full year, is an all-out assault on the human rights of our children.

It’s ironic that the Scottish Parliament is currently talking about enshrining the rights of children into law.

They sure talk a good game but, by their voting record and their silence on school closures, almost every one of them has been complicit in this disgraceful episode.

The Scottish Government is running out of time.

It needs to get all kids back now, in full, as a matter of urgency.

The education and future welfare of tens of thousands of Scottish children depends on it.

This bunch of mums on Facebook will not let up until it’s sorted.

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Jo Bisset is co-organiser for Us For Them Scotland which can be found at its Facebook account here.


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