A new report by the Legatum Institute provides a holistic analysis of the costs and benefits associated with re-opening schools in England at various points between now and the autumn.
The report builds on the proof-of-concept tool developed by the Institute in December 2020 and allows decision makers to understand:
- Direct health effects associated with rising transmission of the virus as a result of schools re-opening.
- Indirect health effects associated with changes in health service and care system provision, and behaviour and health impacts that are related to these impacts but are not caused by the virus itself.
- Long-term economic effects associated with learning loss resulting from school closures.
- Short-term economic effects associated with parents taking on more childcare responsibilities as a result of school closures.
- Wellbeing impacts on children associated with school
Based on this understanding of the costs and benefits and using of the concept of Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) to assess health, social and economic costs on a consistent basis, the report demonstrates how decision makers can make an evidence-based assessment of the net social costs or benefits of opening schools on different dates.
The report also provides a sensitivity analysis to show how different assumptions about the underlying transmission rate (R) in society in the absence of any policy changes and the impact on R leading from schools re-opening affect the results.
The report finds that:
- Primary schools returning on 8th March would create a net benefit to society.
- Secondary schools returning 8th March alongside primary schools would also give a net benefit to society.
- Primary schools returning on 22nd February would have been a net benefit only if the impact of opening schools on R is towards the low end of expected ranges.
Baroness Philippa Stroud, CEO of Legatum Institute, said:
“Covid-19 has fundamentally impacted all of us – affecting our health, our relationships, and our livelihoods. Policy makers are now faced with an unenviable task of making choices on how to unwind restrictions in a way that balances significant health, economic, and social costs and benefits.
“To date, this has largely taken place without much publicly available information on the basis of and evidence for these decisions. But this report, and our original proof-of-concept tool, shows that does not need to be the case. Our research demonstrates that this difficult subject can be approached in an objective and structured fashion, so that decision makers can fully understand the complex issues at hand and the various costs and benefits of different courses of action.
“We believe that by using and building on this approach and the evidence it provides, the UK Government and others stand a greater chance of making decisions that deliver the best overall outcomes for individuals, families, and communities across the UK. Our approach also provides a way for policymakers and politicians to communicate the evidence behind, and build public trust in, the choices being made.”
 Unless a value of a QALY of two to three times the standard HM Treasury valuation is used.
 Unless vaccinations are not as effective as expected in bringing infection rate down.