SARAH VINE: No one gets a second childhood. Why must THEY pay the price for the virus?
Since the 1870s, when Britain stopped sending children up chimneys, this country has upheld its commitment to the care of the young. As of Monday, when it was announced that all schools would have to close until mid-February at the earliest, that principle is now in question.
It is clear to me, and to other parents like me, that our children are fast becoming third-class citizens. Their education, their rights, future and wellbeing — not to mention their mental health — during this pandemic have been treated as if secondary to everyone else’s.
That’s not just my opinion. It is a fact, borne out by the actions of teaching unions whose principal aim is not the welfare of children, but the desire to make political capital out of the pandemic — and by a Labour Party with the same selfish, short-sighted agenda, as well as a Government burdened with impossible choices.
At every stage, it seems, children have been an afterthought. The priority has been protecting the elderly and the vulnerable from the worst effects of the disease, and it is right that those who suffer most should be the ones to whom we afford the greatest protection.
At every stage, it seems, children have been an afterthought. The priority has been protecting the elderly and the vulnerable from the worst effects of the disease, writes Sarah Vine
But not at the complete expense of others, and particularly not at the expense of an entire generation so vital to the future prospects and morale of this nation.
And yet the message we are sending our young people is loud and clear: Your lives don’t matter.
As the mother of two teenagers — one doing A-levels this year and the other GCSEs — this notion fills me with a mixture of rage and heartbreak. I am by no means one of those rainbow-unicorn snowflake parents, but God I feel sorry for the blighters.
They can’t go to school, use a library, see their friends, participate in sport or any extra-curricular activity. They can’t even get a job because, thanks to lockdown, there are none.
The one thing that was keeping them going was getting through the exams this year and the excitement of moving to sixth form or university. Now those prospects have been taken away from them. The exams have been cancelled, and there will be some form of teacher assessment instead.
The decision to sacrifice them may ‘follow the science’, but it is beyond me. Psychologically, it’s hugely damaging. Strange as it may seem, exams are what have been keeping them motivated — the knowledge that they were to be tested and would have the opportunity to prove themselves.
Indeed, for those who have struggled with online learning — as so many have — and whose predicted grades have fallen as a result, the chance of making up lost ground in the exams was a glimmer of hope.
Take that away, and what’s the point in getting out of bed in the mornings? As the daughter of one friend said to me: ‘It’s like no one cares any more.’
Since the 1870s, when Britain stopped sending children up chimneys, this country has upheld its commitment to the care of the young, says Sarah Vine (pictured: two chimney sweepers)
Well, I do. As does my mother, who rang me from her home in Italy in a state of anguish. Again, she’s no sentimentalist, but on this occasion, and most uncharacteristically, because she is the most level-headed of women, she is spitting tacks.
The idea that children, and her own grandchildren, should not matter appals her. The view that schooling is not a frontline issue — just as vital as access to healthcare or food, is incomprehensible.
From her point of view, teachers are key workers, and schools are just as important as hospitals. And she’s right.
My kids are incredibly lucky. They are safe, warm and well fed, with their own rooms, laptops, decent wi-fi and food in the fridge. They find their parents deeply irritating, but we are not violent or otherwise abusive.
Sadly, that is not the case for every child in this country. And for them, an education is not just useful, but a lifeline.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured above. The point is that you cannot just put children’s dreams on hold. No one gets a second childhood, says Sarah Vine (file photo)
School gives them a refuge from the troubles at home; it offers them an escape from the bad hand that fate has dealt them. The adults they meet at school are often the only ones they can trust.
Education gives them a chance to escape the statistical odds stacked against them, to invent their future according to their own hopes and dreams.
The point is that you cannot just put children’s dreams on hold. No one gets a second childhood. No one gets to be 15 or 17 again; once it’s gone, it’s gone.
That’s why it’s not enough for unions and politicians simply to shrug their shoulders and say they have no choice.
Yes, we must contain the spread of the virus. But we cannot do so at the cost of young lives.
And we must have a proper plan in place to repair the damage being done to the younger generation who, through no fault of their own, are facing an increasingly grim future.
A family in Knutsford, Cheshire, watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a televised address to the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, on Monday
If the issue is safeguarding teachers, as so many claim, that’s fine. Let’s put them at the front of the queue for vaccinations.
Many of them are young, so not at serious threat of the virus. But for those over the age of 50, the worry is understandable. Surely it is not beyond the ken of Government to vaccinate all those who need it, as we are doing with NHS frontline workers.
There are about half a million teachers in the Uk — it would take just a few days to vaccinate the most vulnerable and, if necessary, family members. I am convinced older people such as my mother would be prepared to shield for a few more weeks, even months, if it meant their grandchildren could go back into the classroom.
And if a child or young person happens to live with a vulnerable adult, prioritise them for vaccination, too.
It’s not as though we don’t have the wherewithal to identify those at risk. You can’t buy a coffee these days without it being registered somewhere. Let’s use that data wisely and strategically.
Charlotte Rose assists one of her children, who is being home schooled, in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, on Tuesday
A close-up of an Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine vial containing 10 doses held up by a nurse at Pontcae Medical Practice on Monday in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
And if we need to bring in the Army to help staff schools, so be it. If we need to scrap the summer holidays to allow children to catch up, we should do so.
The schools would understand. I have spoken to several over the past few months, and not one has expressed anything other than dismay at the situation.
Teachers are just as distressed as the rest of us, if not more so, particularly since they are seeing first-hand the effects of school deprivation.
Eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse are all on the rise among young people. And the longer they remain trapped at home, the worse it will get.
What is missing is a coherent, viable strategy for dealing with the virus long-term. Even if we have a successful vaccination programme, this thing is going to be with us for a good while yet, possibly for ever.
We simply can’t keep shutting down schools — or society in general — indefinitely. We must strain every sinew and explore every possibility to get schools open, and keep them that way.
Yes, we must protect the NHS. Yes, we must save lives. But for God’s sake let’s find a way of doing it that doesn’t forget children — or send the next generation back up that metaphorical chimney.
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