Approach to School Re-openings and Future Closures – Open Letter
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister
10 Downing St, Westminster
London SW1A 2AA
The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, the Secretary of State for Education 20 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
24 July 2020
Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education
Approach to School Re-openings and Future Closures
We are a community of parents, scientists and businesspeople writing to ask that you reconsider your approach to the reopening of schools and other educational settings from September, and any future school closures.
There is a growing body of evidence that children play a limited in role in transmitting Covid-19 and are less likely than adults to bring infections into a household. In particular we refer to the recent statement made by Sage member, Professor Mark Woolhouse:
“One thing we have learnt is that children are certainly, in the 5 to 15 brackets from school to early years, minimally involved in the epidemiology of this virus…There is increasing evidence that they rarely transmit. For example, it is extremely difficult to find any instance anywhere in the world as a single example of a child transmitting to a teacher in school.”
At the same time, recent data released by the ONS demonstrates the significant negative impact that school closures have had on the mental health of children and parents and on the ability of parents to work productively. It is critical for the recovery of this country’s economy that schools are now kept open and fully operational save in the most exceptional of circumstances.
We call on the Government please to do two things:
Firstly, to make clear the precise criteria that will be used to decide whether schools are ever to close again in the future and to classify schools as critical national infrastructure to prevent them being unnecessarily closed again. Widespread school lockdowns are an inappropriate response to local outbreaks and for the sake of our children and the broader economy, we ask that you now commit to keep schools open. Where a significant outbreak takes place within a school the only school to be the subject of closure should be the one affected by the outbreak. As the results of the ONS survey referenced above show, online learning is a poor substitute for school learning and one that is deeply problematic for both children and working parents.
Secondly, to change your social distancing guidance for children in schools and other educational settings in such a way that will allow schools to operate in a near-to-normal state.
In light of the strong evidence that there is only minimal transmission from children to adults, continued strict social distancing for children is disproportionate and damaging. Many experts have written at length about this and we refer you to the open letters of Professor Ellen Townsend, Dr Sunil Bhopal and to the expert briefings available on www.reachwell.org which highlight the damage and help decision making. We also refer you to the following extracts from the letter by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, to Sir Patrick Vallance:
“I am concerned that some of the scientific advice and public health guidance around COVID-19 is failing to recognise the specific needs and circumstances of children.”
“A range of paediatric evidence indicates that children are less likely than adults to get COVID-19, and that when they do get it their illness is more likely to be milder…An increasing number of studies now suggest that children play a limited in role in transmitting Covid-19 and are less likely than adults to bring infections into a household.”
“Despite this, the same social and physical distancing rules continue to be applied to children as to adults. This has led to deleterious effects on children, particularly the most vulnerable.” 
Were you now to follow the examples set by Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Kirsty Williams in Wales by dropping social distancing for children, as we believe the weight of evidence and expert opinion compels you to do, the impact on working parents and on workforce productivity would be significant. It is clear from the hundreds of reports already received from parents in the UsforThem Group that to meet the current Department for Education Guidance many schools are proposing to operate from September under significant constraints. In many cases the length of the school day has been shortened, after-school clubs and wrap around care (late stay and breakfast clubs) have been reduced or taken away altogether. These issues will cause severe challenges to working parents and will be an impediment to a full economic recovery. Similarly a large number of operators of summer camps are reporting that they are unable to open due to the continuation of social distancing requirements for children within such settings.4 Ensuring they can now open, fully, would give a much needed boost to the ability of parents to get back to work.
In relation to any review of the Department for Education Guidance there is a further point we must raise. We support the statement in the current version of the Guidance that “wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education setting is not recommended” but we are aware of reports that some schools are nonetheless requiring pupils to wear masks. We ask that you now direct schools to prohibit the wearing of face coverings for pupils in education settings. Given the very low risk children are at from the virus, and their disputed role in transmission, mask wearing for children is a disproportionate response and one which would interfere with the ability of children to interact and learn.