Nic Elliott: If I don’t send my children back to school, it won’t be because of the coronavirus

This is an article by Nic Elliott. Nic is the host of the Sounding Board podcast. His Twitter account is @MrNicElliott.

Teachers are being told by their unions they can legally refuse to return to work, says the Guardian.

The Times is confusing infection with illness on its front page, in a deliberate attempt to scaremonger parents:


I am a parent.

I am also a key worker (replace key with essential, critical, or whatever word the government decides today), yet after our local school begged us, my wife and I changed our working arrangements so that we could both still work, and still look after the children ourselves, sparing the school of the responsibility.

I have always supported our primary school. Our children have flourished. Even during the school closure, we have been supplied with daily teaching materials, engaging videos, phone calls to the children, and regular communication from the senior teaching staff. There are other schools in our local area that have just gone dark on students and their parents. I feel greatly for those kids, and for those trying to keep them entertained and educated.

But now that the PM has announced that schools should get ready for an intake of three of the seven standard primary school years, I am not confident at all about sending our children back.

Am I afraid of the coronavirus? Not one bit. My wife and I are under forty-five, and my children, are, well… children. Despite what the Times say in their headline, all the evidence and statistics say my children will be fine, and so will we.

Of course, I understand the school will have staffing issues surrounding those that are clinically vulnerable and in the high-risk groups. But right now, schools are being asked to prepare for an intake of three years, not seven, and to halve the class sizes.

Yes, it is more complicated than that, there are still the children of key workers to consider, which have also just been encouraged to go in en masse. Groups of fifteen children are to be kept apart from other groups where possible in the school, and things like breaks, lunches and start/finish times are to be staggered.

Ignoring the evidence in general that we should just reopen the schools entirely, the new government guidance on schools isn’t overly onerous. In fact, it states very clearly that primary age children are NOT expected to stay two metres apart from each other and that this has been taken into account. Yet teaching unions and local authorities have grabbed the two metre social distancing rules (which are not even underpinned in the law) and are going much, much further.

After a half hour conversation yesterday with our head teacher (something I have never even contemplated before), I learned that it wasn’t the government guidance, but risk assessment criteria from teaching unions and the local authority that were forcing the school into this incredibly difficult position.

Four metres squared per pupil in a class setting? Seriously? Classrooms can be different sizes, depending on the space standards of when they were built. The comprehensive government guidance is clear that classes should have up to fifteen in a group, with one or two teaching staff regardless of room size. If there are desks, they are to be spread out as far as possible, but not two metres at all costs.

Yet the local authority and unions are ignoring this balanced advice from the government and their scientific advisors, and imposing crazy limits on schools, that effectively mean they cannot operate.

My conversation with the head teacher was constructive, professional, and detailed. We talked of the myriad conflicting aims and priorities, and how to possibly satisfy them all.

I think he has been dealt a near impossible hand and is doing the best he can in the situation – certainly with parents like me, butting in to have our two pence worth.

But this is what I fear. My daughter is five and has already missed out on months of development in Foundation Stage (what we used to call Reception). Like most her age, she thrives on interaction with her peers and teachers and on the noise and the hustle and bustle of school. I don’t want her being taught that keeping away from her peers, and not sharing toys is normal, or desirable. I don’t want her missing out on sitting together on the carpet for a story, or for phonics and maths.

The damage to mental wellbeing may indeed be permanent at that age. Is that what we want for the next generation? Children afraid of going near each other for fear of being disciplined. Missing out on true group activities and bonding experiences – social and cognitive development vital at this age.

As the government’s chief scientific advisor and chief medical officer meet with unions today, I may yet send my daughter in, if and when the school opens its doors in the coming weeks.

But if I don’t, it won’t be because I am scared of Covid-19. It will be because the teaching environment created by zealous unions and over-protective local authorities will itself be harmful to her health.

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20 thoughts on “Nic Elliott: If I don’t send my children back to school, it won’t be because of the coronavirus

  1. There was an interesting report from Spain of their 70,000 antibody survey that showed that young children seem not to have been infected at the same rate as adults. So not only are children mostly far less affected when they are infected, but it seems they don’t get infected nearly as often – perhaps because many of them have some kind of natural immunity.

    La prevalencia entre los niños es muy inferior a la general, ha señalado Pollán. Entre los menores de un año, del 1,1%; entre 1 y 4 años, del 2,2%, y entre los 5 y los 9 años, un 3% tenían anticuerpos, lo que indica que han estado en contacto con el virus. Esto quiere decir, según Joan Ramon Villalbí, miembro de la junta directiva de la Sociedad Española de Salud Pública (Sespas), que o bien no han pasado tanto la enfermedad como los adultos o no han generado respuesta de anticuerpos. No hay grandes diferencias por sexos ni por grupos de edad en adultos. La proporción de positivos es mayor en residentes de ciudades de más de 100.000 habitantes, ha detectado el estudio: el 6,4% de prevalencia.

  2. I saw that dystopian photo a couple of days go and woke up yesterday morning really angry about what’s being done to our children’s social and psychological development. I think it’s disgraceful that the teachers’ unions are playing politics with pupils’ wellbeing and educational opportunity.
    I also think it’s ridiculous that teachers – who are supposed to be intelligent and educated – are scared of the virus. Despite the constant nonsensical and scary propaganda from the media, it would be nice to think those in charge of educating our kids are capable of seeing where things don’t add up and start asking questions.
    The WHO only recommended distancing by 1m. That would make a huge logistical difference, not only to schools, but to businesses left scratching their heads wondering how they can reopen and comply with the mad UK guideline.
    To start wondering what’s really going on here invites some extremely disturbing answers.

  3. Fully agree, saw that photo and was saddened, if this is the ‘new normal’ the world is going to be a very depressing place.
    As my wife, a nurse, is keen to point out to others the WHO guidelines also refer to 15 minutes contact which seems to have been completely forgotten. Most probably why we have so many afraid to go outside or jumping out of the way of others in the supermarket aisle and people insist that going to the beach and walking on trails should require a mask.
    This is not an airborne virus, transmission is typically through contact with virus on a surface which you then transfer to face, yet the advice we are given is to treat it as if it was.

  4. 😊The unions are going to look pretty stupid if all the private schools go back. They will be asked are parents who send their children to private school deliberately trying to kill their own children and their teachers etc and it will become obvious the whole thing is just politically motivated.

  5. Not airborne? Perhaps, but most certainly spread by aerosols, which are released by talking as well as the more obvious sneezing & coughing.
    Primary school aged children will huddle together when drawing, painting, etc. There’s no easy way to keep them separate if it’s a group activity. And if it isn’t, the classroom experience will be very poor and lead to absenteeism and health issues.

  6. When will people get it into their heads that the risk isn’t Covid-19 v no risk. Teachers, and children, will have experienced more risk from multiple flu seasons than one Covid-19 event. If the teachers don’t understand this and haven’t bothered to find out then they really have no business in educating anyone and need to start with themselves.

  7. Quite so Dene. The Globe has a myriad of bacteria and virsuses in its land, sea and air, and within every living organism – flora and fauna – there live more. We have immune systems built up from being in contact with these bacteria and viruses, and which is all the weaker from being isolated from them.

    More and more specialists – Doctors and scientists are being interviewed and their interviews appearing online (this does not please some platforms who repeatedly remove them) which tell in detail the facts as they stand from years of practice and study in virology, epidemiology, microbiology and more. But it is the headlines that catch the eye and the government mantra ‘must’ be believed – woe betide you if you do not! Sadly, in preparing (programming?) the masses to expect the exagerrated worst, existing treatment centres have been closed and appointments delayed, which has in itself increased the numbers of deaths which otherwise may not have occurred – all through a program of fear relating to a virus which is allegedly ‘new’ (there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands we do not ‘know’ of) and which has crippled global economy, for what reason?

    Annual influenza kills more, yet there is no lock-down. There may well be an agenda that is being cloaked in this supposeldy ‘new’ lurgy, but I will not venture into what that might be, suffice to say it will possibly not be to the benefit of mankind (that includes women).

    Will there be a second spike after ‘lock-down’ is lifted? Possibly. But how much will be down to a reduced immune sytem from being isolated? And how much from ‘managed’ statistics to provide a ‘lock-down good’ confirmation? And if neither, confirmation of a plan to introduce mandatory vaccinations for all. That idea from Messrs. Fauci and Gates has just been thwarted by the USA Supreme Court – and rightly so. Our bodies are not to be used as their pet control devices. We are not machines to be injected with nano-particle sized chips receiving data and instruction from a centrally controlled satellite system – unless you like that kind of thing. Mood control for the masses. That could be dangerous. All it takes is for the blood – brain barrier to be broken. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

  8. It is just amazing how much damage this flawed ‘lock-down’ strategy has now inflicted on our society. We now have lost the ability to rationalise normally with the slightly scary situation that we don’t seem to be able to get out if it. What was it Roosevelt said ?

  9. When lockdown was announced it was our country’s response/panic that worried me more than the virus itself. We’ve upended society, ruined the economy and public finances, and caused many collateral deaths. If we were ever faced with a virus much more infectious and deadly then society could easily fall apart. We’ve got ourselves into a mess for a virus that may only be slightly worse in its impact than a bad flu season. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

  10. This also points to a problem with state schools generally where the professional status of the teacher is devalued by his being a state functionary and by extension part of the public sector union machinery, whereas the teacher’s authority ought to derive from the parent and the relationship construed as one of delegation. My father was always telling teachers to give me a good whack if I got out of line – that’s what he told me anyway.

    Those were fee-paying schools but there were also independent schools which were publicly funded but otherwise maintained their autonomy. I don’t believe there are any truly autonomous publicly funded schools now. Autonomy is the key principle not necessarily funding, though I think we should pay at least something for all services, only because people tend not to value what they don’t pay for themselves, that’s partly why infants in Africa are often better schooled than infants here.

    A voucher system whereby parents could choose schools was mooted back when the ‘free market’ commercialist zealots were in the ascendancy, where ‘choice’ was supposed to be the supreme principle. But autonomy doesn’t mean non-state owned: private equity ownership doesn’t equate to autonomy. But it was part of the ‘free market’ liturgy that if a thing wasn’t state owned it was thereby ‘free’. Not that any model is proof against the officiousness unleashed by the viral contagion hysteria. Some small shopkeepers are among the most zealous enforcers of ‘social distancing’.

  11. Yes. Thanks for flagging up the 15 minutes. So much for jumping into the road to avoid catching it while you pass someone!

  12. Well if the academy schools go back, it will certainly be revenge.
    “[Mary Bousted] never had any time for Tony Blair’s government either – and opposed his drive towards academy schools.”

  13. “showed that young children seem not to have been infected at the same rate as adults”

    I have discovered we have an innate immune system: AMPs and such substances are produced; AMPs= anti-microbial peptides;

    our airways secrete them; when we have good Vit D levels, we make many more of them;

    so think of a rugby player: running with the ball; he doesn’t need to have met the person before that he fends off: he does it “on the run”: so our innate system does that: in churchillian terms so beloved of us English, the innate system “repels the invaders on the beaches”; tosses them back into the sea. No record retained.

    We are totally focussed; with our lack of knowledge, on thinking forming antibodies are the only thing: healthy children, outdoors in sunlight, eating real food; should make lots of Vit D and have a strong “innate” system; so no antibodies needed.

    Read about this here:

  14. I can’t agree with your argument about parents. Part of the problem is that for decades, the government has refused to treat teachers as professionals, so they are not respected.
    My mother used to teach infants and the parents were always more concerned that their 5 year-olds couldn’t recite the alphabet than whether they could read. If parents were so good at child edication, they’d be clamouring to get their kids back into school so they could play with their peers, as nature intended.

  15. Perhaps I didn’t put it clearly enough but that’s pretty much what I meant in saying that teaching was devalued in virtue of the teacher being a state functionary, the school having no institutional autonomy. And construing the role of teacher as delegate of parent is the opposite of claiming that parents make better teachers.

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