‘Happy children became sad, angry and demotivated’: A chilling warning that Covid school closures would devastate pupils was IGNORED by the Government at the height of lockdown, campaigners claim, as they share how they unearthed the scientific report

  •  Obesity in ten and 11-year-olds increased to 25.5 per cent in 2020/21
  • Great Ormond Street saw 1,493 percent increase in abusive head trauma 
  • Children’s Commissioner called long school closure ‘absolutely unnecessary’
  • Over one million referrals were made to child mental health services last year

 The authors of a new book claim a ‘chilling’ warning about the devastating impact school closures would have on pupils during the pandemic was ignored by Government scientists behind Britain’s lockdown.

Campaigners Liz Cole and Molly Kingsley unearthed a report written in April 2020, just a month after schools closed, which said the move was putting education seriously at risk and two-thirds of parents were already warning their children’s mental health was suffering.

The report, written by four academics and a civil servant on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the risk to 30,000 vulnerable children had ‘increased significantly’ and called for data to be urgently collected on whether child suicides were rising.

The authors found the study had been quietly released as an ‘annexe’ to another report and did not appear to have been discussed by other scientists on Sage.

They say it was one of a string of ‘ear-splitting’ warnings that went unheeded about the harm that school closures and strict social distancing rules would cause children. The Children’s Inquiry, which will be published this month, claims children were treated as a ‘de facto underclass’ during the pandemic and that an entire cohort of pupils are now unhealthier, unhappier and behind educationally.

The book says: ‘It should be a matter of shame to all involved that by summer 2020, most UK children were unable to attend school while adults queued outside Primark or went to the pub.’

‘MATTER OF SHAME’: Schools were closed to most pupils for longer than in any other country in Europe

It adds: ‘From a child welfare point of view, our pandemic response was a national disaster.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 18, 2020, that England’s 24,000 schools were to close until further notice. They would remain closed for longer than any other country in Europe.

Many children returned to their classrooms in September 2020, only for schools to be shut again in January last year. Even when they reopened that March, Covid outbreaks and isolation rules caused chaos.

Amid mounting concern, Mrs Cole, 48, and Mrs Kingsley, 43, who each have two children, founded the UsforThem campaign.

‘We have spent two years watching as four happy children by turns became sad, angry, demotivated, confused, had rites of passage and life opportunities taken away from them and friendships curtailed,’ they write in the book, which also reveals that:

More than one million referrals were made to specialist child mental health services last year – up 15 per cent. The number of children waiting for eating disorder treatment has tripled; 

Almost half (46 per cent) of children who entered reception year in 2020 were not ‘school ready’ – up from 35 per cent in 2019 – with a ‘staggering’ increase in speech and language difficulties;

Obesity among ten and 11-year-olds increased from 21 per cent in 2019/20 to 25.5 per cent in 2020/21;

The number of primary school children achieving at or above the expected standard fell by about one-fifth between autumn 2019 and summer 2020;

Amid fears of a surge of child abuse, Great Ormond Street Hospital for children reported a 1,493 per cent increase in cases of abusive head trauma during the first month of school closures;

Neurologists identified an ‘explosion’ of children with lockdown-induced tics, disorders and Tourette’s syndrome.

The book reveals that Anne Longfield, then Children’s Commissioner, spent ‘weeks and weeks’ arguing that children should return to school, culminating in a demand in May 2020 that Ministers and unions ‘stop squabbling and agree a plan’.

Ms Longfield told the authors it was ‘absolutely unnecessary’ to keep schools closed until the last weeks of the summer term in 2020, saying: ‘It added a huge additional detriment to those children and was completely irresponsible and virtually criminal for those children.’

The authors highlight how Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease epidemiologist and a member of Sage, said there had been no compelling evidence to justify school closures and express their shock at discovering that some of the worst effects had been pinpointed within a month of locking classroom doors – yet Government scientists continued to recommend tough lockdown measures.

In the first month of school closures Great Ormond Street Hospital for children saw a 1,493 per cent increase in cases of abusive head trauma 

Co-author Mrs Cole said last night: ‘The report was ignored. It was an annexe – a footnote. We can’t see that it has been acted on, yet the warnings were so chilling. That document should have provoked a sense of urgency and serious recognition that this was an emergency situation.’

The book highlights the impact of strict social-distancing and mask-wearing rules once classrooms did reopen.

One parent says the temperature in her daughter’s classroom fell to 10C in February last year because windows were kept open to provide ventilation. ‘She’s being sent in with a hot-water bottle, blanket, hot soup, hand-warmers and a flask of tea. How is that acceptable?’ the mother said.

The Department for Education said: ‘The Government acted swiftly over the course of the pandemic to minimise the impact on children’s education and wellbeing and help keep pupils in face-to-face education as much as possible.’

The Children’s Inquiry, by Liz Cole and Molly Kingsley, is published by Pinter & Martin on June 30.

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