Back to school: Advice for children and young people

Updated on 1 September 2020

Most of you haven’t been in full-time education since March 2020. Only the children of key workers, those with special needs or those who couldn’t be cared for safely at home were allowed to attend school during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown and some year groups returned briefly before the summer holidays.

So how are you feeling about going back? Excited? Nervous? Somewhere in between? As schools and colleges open their doors to all students, the Good Thinking team offers some tips to help you deal with any concerns you might have.

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’ve been doing your schoolwork at home and having virtual lessons, it’s not the same as being in the classroom with your teacher and 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 to 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?

Being off school or college was probably a novelty to start with but as the months went on, you might have found it became more difficult. Now that you’re going back, you might be experiencing mixed emotions.

Some of you might be particularly worried about the prospect of returning. If you’ve been caring for one of your parents, for example, you might worry about leaving them on their own. If you have an autism spectrum disorder or a mental health condition, you might have been relieved to be out of the school or college environment in recent months. Or if you’re starting at a new school or college, you might have first day nerves.

Try writing a list of five things you’ve really missed while you’ve been at home. 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.

If you went to school during lockdown (for instance, if one of your parents or carers is an essential worker), how about letting your friends know what it’s been like? Your experience might reassure them and help them to look forward to it.

The last few months have been very challenging for everyone so it’s perfectly understandable if you’re feeling apprehensive about going back to school or college. Perhaps you’re worried about the risk of getting coronavirus or you’re nervous about what the school/college environment might look like now.

As the UK Government says: “The scientific evidence shows that coronavirus (COVID-19) presents a much lower risk to children than adults of becoming severely ill, and there is no evidence that children transmit the disease any more than adults. Of course, there will still be risks while coronavirus (COVID-19) remains in the community, and that is why schools and colleges will be asked to put in place a range of protective measures.”

Every school or college has been doing their own health and safety risk assessment ahead of September. To help put your mind at ease, find out what safety measures your school or college is putting in place – this might include social distancing (e.g. staying in small groups or ‘bubbles’ of students), increased hygiene and hand washing and staggered start and finish times. If you’re at secondary school, you might have to wear a face covering in communal areas.

If you or a close contact has symptoms of coronavirus, you should self-isolate and not go to school or college. You can request a COVID-19 test from NHS Test and Trace.

You might find it useful to draw up a ‘back to school’ plan. When you’re facing a stressful or anxious situation, this kind of 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 for the Autumn term are. 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, always follow safer travel guidance (e.g. wear a face covering if you’re aged 11+). TFL is planning to dedicate a number of buses for school travel on busy routes from September.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with all your schoolwork while you’ve been at home, don’t worry. Your teachers will do everything they can to help you catch up. Let them know what you’ve been able to do and be honest about what you’ve struggled with. They should also be able to tell you what will happen with assessments and exams in 2020/21, 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, 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.

We know the last few months have been unexpected and full of challenges. There has been a lot going on with a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter and other issues affecting many young people.

Going back to school or college is a key milestone. Try to see it as an exciting opportunity to get back to some kind of normality and an important step towards your future.

You might also find it useful to think about some of the positives that came out lockdown, such as how you got fitter thanks to #PEWithJoe, how air pollution went down because of fewer cars on the roads and how you got your gran doing a TikTok dance!

Read Good Thinking’s articles about five ways to good mental wellbeing, how to handle uncertainty and how to deal with anger.

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