CLOSING schools during the pandemic was a mistake that saw ‘terrible consequences’ for kids across the town, a Barnsley MP believes.

Miriam Cates, the Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said her ‘heart sank’ as she watched the former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announce he was going to close schools to most pupils back in March 2020.

The mum-of-three described the decision as ‘enormously damaging’ and has expressed that the cost to children due to subsequent lockdowns has been ‘appalling’.

“Watching his statement from home with my three school-aged children, I remember shouting at the television ‘don’t do it Gavin’,” she added.

“My heart sank as I foresaw the terrible consequences of this decision for my own kids and for millions of families across the country.

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“The next few months were pretty hellish in our household, but what my children went through was nothing compared to the experience of so many others.

“As an MP my inbox filled with cries for help from constituents, despairing as they watched the mental health of their children decline or unable to cope without core support services for their disabled children.”

Ms Cates says there has been a 77 per cent increase in acute mental health referrals for children, and a 167 per cent increase in self-generated online sexual images of 11 to 13 year olds.

Current Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi publicly stated the decision to close schools during the pandemic was a mistake - a brave act according to Ms Cates.

“Of course it is too late for many, and sadly there will be children who never recover from the consequences of missing so much school,” she added.

“But Zahawi’s statement is nevertheless an essential step forward because it forces us to ask some searching questions about how this tragedy was allowed to occur in the first place.

“Closing schools for such a long period wasn’t just an error of policy, it was a moral failure.

“I don’t envy the difficult choices that the government had to make in the early days of the pandemic, and perhaps the initial school closure was unavoidable.

“But it very soon became clear that Covid carried almost zero risk for children, and that lockdowns were doing unacceptable harm.”

She believes there now must be an acknowledgement of not just what went wrong but also why - and without that they will fail to put it right.

“Children are not disease spreaders, they are not granny killers and they are not a buffer for adult priorities,” she said.

“Children are a blessing, they are our future and we must re-commit ourselves to putting their welfare first.”