So much more than a disruption to learning: Why keeping schools open needs to be prioritised in a season of Covid 19 lockdowns. Alison Prowle is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Worcester and has extensive experience of teaching, early years provision and family intervention as an academic, a front-line practitioner and as a senior manager in local government. Since joining the Department for Children & Families in 2012, Alison has enjoyed teaching across a number of programmes, retaining specific interests in parenting, integrated working, leadership and childhood adversity. She has also enjoyed contributing to a number of research projects, including evaluations of parenting and family support programmes, and a project designed to better understand the needs of kinship carers and their families. Her current research is focused upon the support needs of refugee and asylum seeking families. Recent Publication: Prowle, A and Hodgkins, A (2020) Making a Difference with Children and Families – Re-imagining the Role of the Practitioner, London: Palgrave Macmillan Rosie Walker is a Senior Lecturer in the Department for Children and Families at Worcester University. Her professional heritage is in social care where she gained extensive experience in safeguarding and protecting children in both the statutory and voluntary sector. She managed two phase 1 children's centres for several years before joining the university. Rosie has an interest in the design of degree programmes and student practitioner research in improving outcomes for children and families. She is currently course leader for the Postgraduate certificate in Leading Culture Change in Safeguarding Recent Publication: Gasper, M., and Walker, R. (eds.) (2020) Mentoring and Coaching in Early Childhood. London, Bloomsbury. So much more than a disruption to learning: Why keeping schools open needs to be prioritised in a season of Covid 19 lockdowns The issue of whether to keep schools open during lockdown has been hotly contested, not just here in the UK but across the world. Narratives of children as super-spreaders dominate, coupled with concerns about the health of education staff and children’s relatives. There is evidence that, despite showing a milder disease and frequent lack of symptoms, children do carry high levels of the virus in their upper respiratory tracts during early infection. However, the studies that measured this did not test transmissibility, so the evidence that children play a significant role in spreading the virus is somewhat weaker. Nonetheless, as England enters a second National lockdown there has been fierce debate about whether schools should remain open, with teaching unions pitched against government in an argument that is fraught with complex ideological and pragmatic considerations. As the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, points out, children have a right to education, and this should be prioritised amid other concerns. When it comes to Covid restrictions, schools should be the “first to open, last to close". Whilst in a time of rising cases and pressure on the NHS, all measures to slow transmission have to be considered, closing schools needs to be seen as a last resort. We know from research that regular attendance at school is closely linked to children’s long and short-term educational outcomes. We also know that the negative impacts of school closures will affect disadvantaged children disproportionately, widening the attainment gap and diminishing children’s life chances. However, it is important to recognise that even more than this is at stake. For many children, including those who could be considered vulnerable or disadvantaged, their very wellbeing depends on all that being in school entails. This week, we enjoyed the privilege of meeting remotely with groups of young people who have a range of additional needs, including physical disabilities, learning disabilities, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and complex trauma. Despite the focus of our workshops being something altogether different, Covid 19 and the first lockdown dominated our discussions. The young people told us how difficult they had found it when school was closed, even though their teachers had made Herculean efforts to keep in touch and provide learning opportunities remotely. “I wasn’t able to see my friends and teachers” said one 16 year old tearfully, “I was sad every day and it was hard to keep myself going”. “The days were empty and long” said another student, “I stopped practicing my walking every day without my teacher to encourage me, and now it hurts so much.” Yet another young person told us how difficult he finds change and uncertainty. Without school routines and school staff to talk to, he had floundered and found it difficult to manage his emotions. It was clear that for these young people Covid-19 had affected every aspect of their lives. The services and activities they engage with had completely or partially shut down, parents were stressed, and school was not there to pick up the pieces. School, for these young people, is more than an opportunity for learning. It is their community, their safe space. Closing schools is detrimental to their very wellbeing. All our efforts need to be directed to making schools safe, and this demands adequate resourcing from Government. However, it is also vital that the Government listens to and engages with the real concerns of school leaders and teaching unions, and provides real support, including adequate test and trace systems, to enable schools to operate safely. This need not be a debate with both sides at loggerheads, it should be a constructive, co-operative mission to let schools do what they do best – providing environments for children to grow, learn and flourish.