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Nov 4, 2023Liked by Oliver Johnson

Re: schools closing. I was very much in favour of schools closing, and I now think I was very wrong. However, I was reflecting back on the first time schools closed, and the context.

My son was in Yr 6, and I clearly remember how scared we all were. I saw parents with raw hands from hand washing (remember that?) We really didn’t know how it would affect anyone, including children. Most of us absolutely wanted schools closed (admittedly being reasonably able to cope with the logistics of this).

Further, can we ever know how much transmission would have occurred should schools have stayed open (contact through public transport, to teachers, back into multi-generational households etc).

However, having seen the effects on children and families, I think schools should have stayed open, particularly after the first lockdown. I suppose my point is- I have come to this view with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t think I *really* knew that the effects of Covid on children would (generally) be mild, or that cooped up in a London flat would have such a detrimental affect on social skills, although we are otherwise well resourced.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I didn’t think about this because I didn’t know; or I was in such a state of uncertainty that I didn’t consider such factors.

Apologies for the brain dump; I struggle with the long- term effects on children that I see daily and trying to reflect on the decisions that were made.

Happy anniversary and thank you for your posts this year. Your writing has kept me (relatively) sane re: Covid.

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will digest it further over the weekend.

‘But none of these questions were easy or obvious, I think!’-- this is really important. I do think that in the absence of knowledge , there was a desire to grab on to some certainty and this may have lead to less good decisions and maybe even the future polarisation of views (eg ‘ZC’ vs. ‘Minimisers’).

I heard D. Spiegelhalter on something this week (R4?) saying that it would have been more useful for scientists and politicians to have admitted to more uncertainty. But I’m not sure how politically possible that is (given the need for a degree of public confidence and the desire to appear decisive) together perhaps with a human need to be told what to do in a time of crisis.

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I found the 'closing schools' issue really difficult. If the policy had been to keep them open, it would not have been reasonable – nor possibly legal – to require teaching and support staff to work. So an incremental number would be off sick due Covid, and others 'by choice' due medical vulnerability in family. Thus putting head teachers in impossible situation – stay open with fewer staff (changing daily), maintain teaching/childcare and duty of care to all whilst complying with laws eg health and safety. Many schools already operate close to breaking point. Some heads would have had no choice other than to close despite government policy. The Nightingale option wouldn't work. There would have been a media blame-fest. Closing schools was probably the least-worst option.

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