In an extraordinary public intervention, Rod Grant, leader of independent Clifton Hall School in Newbridge, told parents on Monday afternoon that children were becoming “collateral damage” in a lockdown that was causing a “downward spiral” in their mental health.
It came as the Scottish Government announced that schools in Scotland would not reopen after the Christmas holiday until February.
Using Clifton Hall’s official Facebook account, Mr Grant said he had never felt “so despondent and so concerned at the same time” in his 31-year-long career.
“Our world is in the grip of a pandemic and governments across the globe have poured billions of pounds into fighting it and in trying to support the lockdown strategy,” he wrote.
“What about the 1,500 people that die every day in the UK from the big three: heart disease, strokes and cancer-related illnesses?
“Why haven’t we taken these issues as seriously as we have a virus which is likely to end up with a mortality rate of well below 1 per cent, and which, according to the Office for National Statistics has an average age of death in the UK of 83,” Mr Grant asked.
He insisted that he was “not a conspiracy theorist” or a “radical on the fringes”, adding: “I’m just a teacher and this is what I see.”The headteacher said he had witnessed a surge of mental health issues among his students “unlike anything I’ve seen in my career” in the last three months.
“I am seeing children being diagnosed with clinical depression, increasing rates of self-harm..., suicidal ideation and, something I haven’t seen for at least 20 years, a resurgence of eating disorders.
Mr Grant also took aim at remote education techniques, labelling them “a horribly poor substitute” for in-school learning, and warned of “a legacy of under-achievement as a result.
“Children need to be with their friends. They need to play,” he wrote. “They need to develop their social and academic skills.”
Speaking at her daily press conference this afternoon, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her government takes the mental health impact of the lockdown on children seriously.
"What we set out before Christmas and extended yesterday has not been done lightly,” she told reporters.
“I do not want young people to be out of school for a minute longer than is necessary, but two things have changed in the last weeks.
“Community transmission is too high right now for us to think we can have schools operating as normally and safely.
"Secondly, there is too much uncertainty in my view as a politician in the scientific community about whether and to what extent this new variant is more prone to infecting young people. There's no suggestion young people are getting anymore sick if they get this virus, but is it transmitting more between young people than previously.
“While that uncertainty is there I wouldn't be acting on a precautionary basis, which with children more than anything is really important, if we just carried on as normal with school,” she insisted.