PlayFirstUK, a group of experts in child development, have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for plans to reopen schools and ease lockdown restrictions to prioritise the social and emotional wellbeing of pupils.
The group, which includes 15 child psychologists and education specialists led by Professor Helen Dodd from the University of Reading, said children in England should be exempt from the rule of two as soon as it is safe to do so.
They warned plans for intensive “catch up” activity and summer schools may worsen young people’s mental health and wellbeing, and instead called for children to be encouraged to spend time outdoors, be physically active and play with friends.
In the letter, they said: “This spring and summer should not be filled with extra lessons; children, teachers and parents need time and space to recover from the stress that the past year has placed on them.”
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The Government is said to be considering a number of options – including summer schools, extended school days and shorter summer holidays – as part of catch-up plans for pupils who have missed out on learning due to Covid-19.
Prof Dodd said: “If we do not get this right we run the risk of pushing struggling children back into a pressured educational environment, which could cause further damage to their mental health and development.
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“Our children have missed out on enough over the past year, they deserve a summer filled with play.”
Dr Kathryn Lester, senior lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of Sussex, said:
“As lockdown eases, what children need is the time and space to reconnect and play with their friends because this is important for their emotional wellbeing and their academic achievement.”
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It comes as clinical trials are set to begin to examine the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in children and young people aged between six and 17.
The first vaccinations under the trial will take place this month, with up to 240 children receiving the vaccine and the others receiving a control meningitis jab.