Back to school for children in England and Wales
Michael Voss in London

The new school year gets underway in England and Wales over the next week with teachers, parents and pupils all hoping that their education won't be interrupted by Covid lockdowns or being sent home to self-isolate.

A recent study by the University of Exeter and the London School of Economics found that pupils lost a third of their education since the pandemic began. This year the Government has issued new less restrictive guidelines in a bid to keep schools open.

At the Kensington Wade primary school in London last minute preparations are underway as teachers prepare to welcome pupils back for the start of the new academic year.

For younger age groups Covid testing is not required and classes can return to the way they were pre-covid with the Government's new emphasis on handwashing, hygiene and ventilation.


Russia to supply weapons to Belarus

EU advises ban on non-essential U.S. travel

Special report: How conflict drives poverty

Headmistress, Suzanne Haigh is hopeful the new rules will make teaching much easier.

“The guidelines have changed so this year we don't have to have bubbles The children previously had to sit in groups in a class room, they had to face forwards. They could not mix with other children in other class groups. The children are now allowed to face each other which is wonderful, great for their academic development as well with lots of collaboration.” She explained.

The school is also hiring an extra cleaner to regularly clean touch points such as door handles and handrails throughout the day.

Improving ventilation, though, is not always easy. None of the existing windows in this school will open so the rush is on to replace them with new ones before the children arrive.

The Government is hoping that these new less restrictive measures like hygiene and ventilation will be enough to ensure that school life will return more or less to normal and that children won't have to spend long periods of time at home, distance learning.

Last year if a pupil tested positive for Covid then everyone in close contact was sent home to self-isolate. By the end of last term, more than a million pupils were absent from school for Covid related reasons, according to the Department of Education figures, yet only one in five actually had Covid.

This time those identified as close contacts will just need to take a Covid test.

Vaccinating older age groups is a key Government priority. Everyone over the age of 16 is eligible and over the summer vaccination centres were set up at music festivals and other events. The Department of Health is considering extending the vaccination programme to 12-year-olds.

There are concerns though that this could lead to another surge in cases since the majority of children won't be vaccinated.

The signs from Scotland, where schools returned in late August is not encouraging. The latest figures there show a marked increase in Covid-19 cases among those under the age of 18.

Suzanne Haigh accepts that if there is a new spike in Covid cases, tougher restrictions may be introduced. But her young pupils, she believes, should prove adaptable.

“It’s been a challenge but the children have really risen to the occasion. If you say to them, we are going to add this to our structure of the day, we are going to stop a bit early to wash hands, they stop a bit early and wash hands. They know that's the routine, children are really bendy so they go with it.” Suzanne Haigh said.

The older the children get, though, the harder the disruptions become.

All the time spent away from school last year has had an impact on children's education and mental health which is why the Government's priority this year is for schools to continue with minimum disruption for as long as possible.

Search Trends