School closures will hit UK productivity for years, experts warn

The report, by the Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics group (DELVE), said that without action the 13 year groups of students could see their earning potential reduced by three per cent a year.

This would lower the countries overall economic growth rate.

They also warned of the impact on children’s mental and physical health and said the government should carry out surveillance studies to monitor effects on pupils once schools return in September.

A quarter of the UK workforce could have permanently lower skills from the mid-2030’s because of school closures due to coronavirus, experts have warned.

A Royal Society report warned the re-opening of schools in September must be prioritised to avoid long term harm to pupils.

Professor Simon Burgess, professor of economics at the University of Bristol and lead author on the report, said: “We know how damaging it is for children to miss out on school. The amount of school already missed due to the pandemic could impact on their earning potential by around 3 per cent a year throughout their lives and impact on productivity in the UK for decades.

“While it is still early days, there has been little evidence of surges in infection rates in countries that have opened up their schools, including countries that have fully reopened.

“While we have to do all we can to reduce the risk of transmission, we do need to get our children back to school.”

The DELVE group was convened by the Royal Society to consider the impact of coronavirus in the UK.

The experts conclude the risk of re-opening schools is less risky than other activities although it acknowledges the evidence is still emerging.

It said when infection rates rise in some areas, schools may need to close but this should be on a case by case basis.

It says ministers should have clear criteria for the closure of schools and produce advice to parents and make sure schools have the resources they need.

Professor Anna Vignoles, professor of education at the University of Cambridge added: “Shutting down schools has impacted all children but the worst effects will be felt by those from lower socio-economic groups and with other vulnerabilities, such as a pre-existing mental health condition.

“Children from low income households in particular are more likely to lack the resources (space, equipment, home support) to engage fully with remote schooling. Those with pre-existing conditions are more likely to experience a worsening of their mental health. This has to be taken into account in how we come out of this pandemic.”

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