Back to school advice

Last reviewed on 30 August 2021

After 18 months of stop-start studies, you might have mixed feelings about going back to school or college. Excited? Nervous? Somewhere in between?

Perhaps you’re worried about how you’ll catch up after so much disruption or scared there could be another lockdown. If you’re in Year 11 or Year 13, you might not know what to expect in terms of exams and other assessments this year.

A recent survey by The Student Room (5 July - 1 August 2021) revealed that lack of motivation, friendship worries and uncertainty about the future are the main things impacting young people’s mental health right now.

The good news is that, with COVID-19 restrictions having been eased, your school day should start looking more normal. As schools and colleges open their doors to students for the Autumn term, the Good Thinking team offers some tips to help you deal with any concerns you might have.

Our main message is this: Don’t let the pandemic tread on your hopes and dreams! We know the last 18 months have been unexpected and full of challenges. Try to see this new term as an exciting opportunity to get back to some kind of normality and an important step towards your future.

Going to school or college is important for your educational progress and your broader development but it can also be really good for your mental wellbeing. Even if you coped well with virtual lessons or being in ‘bubbles’, it isn’t the same as being in the classroom with your teacher and all your fellow students.

As well as learning new things and gaining new skills at school or college, you get the opportunity to be with other young people and take part in sport, music and other extra-curricular activities. It also gives you a structure to your day and something to focus on. If you have a difficult home life, your school or college might even be your safe space.

Have you missed seeing your friends? Do you work better when your teacher is there to motivate you? Are you keen to get back into a daily routine?

Try writing a list of five things you’ve really missed while you’ve been at home (during lockdowns and the summer holidays). This should help you to feel more confident about going back, even if you still have some concerns. And make sure you talk to your parents, carers and teachers about how you’re feeling so they can support you.

You might find the Move Mood app helpful for boosting your mood and increasing your motivation – it’s free for Good Thinking users.

Even though COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed, it’s understandable that you might be feeling apprehensive about mixing with other students. To help put your mind at ease, find out what safety measures your school or college is putting in place for the Autumn term.

‘Bubbles’ to reduce mixing are no longer compulsory and you won’t have to wear a face covering in the classroom or communal areas (although it is still recommended that you do). It’s a good idea to maintain good hygiene and regular testing remains important in reducing the risk of infection. Plus, if you’re 16 or 17 years old, you should have been offered the COVID-19 vaccine by now.

When you’re facing a stressful or anxious situation, drawing up a plan can help you to focus on what’s in your control. It might include what time you’ll have to go to bed and get up, what you’ll need to take with you on your first day and what your goals are for this school year. It could also include some ideas for how you’ll re-establish friendships with people you haven’t seen for a while.

Your plan should also cover how you’ll get to school or college. If you can walk, cycle or scoot, try to do that. If you have to go by bus, train or tube, follow the UK Government’s safer travel guidance and check the TfL website for information about face coverings.

If you feel like you didn’t keep up with your studies last year, don’t worry. Let your teachers know what you’ve been able to do and be honest about what you’ve struggled with. They will do everything they can to help you catch up and your school might even offer extra tuition. Your teachers will also be able to tell you more about the assessment process for GCSE, A Level and other qualifications, which you might be feeling stressed about.

As ever, you can talk to a teacher, school counsellor or head of year if you’re being bullied or if you’re feeling anxious, down or stressed. You should also tell them if you have any particular worries related to coronavirus or lockdown (e.g. if you have an underlying health condition, if a parent has been made redundant or if you’ve lost a loved one to the virus).

Student wellbeing is a priority for every school and college – it’s OK to ask for help if you need it. If you’d rather speak to someone you don’t know, you could call the Childline or The Mix helplines. If you feel extremely distressed and worried that you might not be able to keep yourself safe, please reach out for help – you’ll find details of NHS 24/7 helplines and other support organisations in this article.

Read Good Thinking’s articles about five ways to good mental wellbeing, how to face uncertain times and how to manage your emotions.

We also have lots of podcasts that you might find interesting, including ones on retaining hope, mindfulness and supporting students.

You might like to download the free Feeling Good Teens app to help you build resilience, self-esteem and motivation. If you're feeling anxious, check out the free Clear Fear app and, if you're feeling down or struggling with lack of motivation, find out how the free Move Mood app could help you.

Useful websites and helplines

BBC Radio 1 (Life Hacks podcasts about anxiety, stress, study/life balance and other wellbeing topics)

Children’s Commissioner (Going back to school)


The Mix


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