Fresh term, fresh start: As children across the UK return to school, we reveal what changes to expect in the classroom

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With the new school year fast approaching, pupils and parents across the land are checking uniforms still fit, buying new shoes and making sure pencil cases are full. But while all this is familiar territory for families, other things won’t be quite the same when children return.

Because, over the summer, many of the restrictions that schools have been operating under since Covid struck have been relaxed.

While the virus is still prevalent in the UK, the success of the vaccine programme has reduced the threat it poses. And with children at so little risk of serious illness, it means that their education – with all its benefits for their mental health – can continue in a similar way to pre-pandemic times.

As Covid restrictions in the classroom ease, there are changes pupils – and parents – can expect at school and colleges when they return

When children return they will find bubbles gone, social distancing ended and no need to go home if a close contact tests positive for the virus. Instead, they can carry on with school, take a PCR test and only self-isolate if the test proves positive.

Not only will this help reduce the disruption of pupils being sent home despite not being ill, it should help parents, too, as they will no longer have to take time off work to look after their children.

Covid Restrictions: what’s changing?

When they return to schools and colleges, these are some of the differences children can expect to see:

Bubbles no longer advised, so pupils can mix more widely.

Assemblies, after-school clubs and competitive sport will resume without restrictions.

An end to staggered school start and finish times, which are no longer advised.

Face coverings no longer advised in classrooms or communal school areas.

Not automatically being sent home if someone in the class gets Covid. Instead, pupils should take a PCR test and only self-isolate if it’s positive.

NHS Test and Trace is now responsible for contact tracing for nurseries, schools and colleges.

Assemblies, competitive sport and after-school clubs will also all resume without restrictions to give youngsters the fullest educational experience possible.

But some of the measures introduced because of Covid will continue in order to keep students as safe as possible. Heightened cleaning regimes in schools will continue, good ventilation will still be key and regular hand washing will carry on for pupils.

And, if an area is experiencing particularly high levels of Covid, schools will have plans in place and may reintroduce some measures if necessary.

To try to avoid this happening, secondary and college pupils will be encouraged to take two rapid Covid-19 tests on returning to education. They will then be expected to carry on with twice-weekly rapid Covid checks at home from then on to help keep everyone as safe as possible.

It’s hoped this vigilance, coupled with the success of the vaccine programme, means that schools will finally be able to offer children an education similar to the one they had pre-pandemic.

And that can only be good for both parents and pupils.


When she returns to lessons to start studying for her GCSEs, Zainab Rahman will finally be able to mix with everyone she knows after a year spent learning in bubbles.

‘I’m looking forward to going back to school, being able to work with my friends and interacting with others,’ says Zainab, who’s going into Year 10 at Small Heath Leadership Academy in Birmingham.

‘There are normally extra homework sessions to help us, and we can do after-school activities such as football or netball.’

When she returns to lessons to start studying for her GCSEs, Zainab Rahman, pictured with her mother Aisha, will finally be able to mix with everyone she knows

Principal Enass Al-Ani recognises that these extracurricular activities are vital if her pupils are going to receive the best possible education. ‘We’re doing our best to offer a wide range of opportunities – it’s a huge part of getting back to where we were before Covid,’ she says. ‘We have leadership opportunities, older children mentoring younger students and assemblies across year groups, not in bubbles.

‘We have a wide range of clubs, and children mixing will have a massive impact on their wellbeing, developing their characters and to become better learners and leaders.’

Key to keeping the 1,200 students as safe as possible will be asking them – as with all secondary and college students – to be tested for Covid on returning to the academy, then performing a twice-weekly rapid Covid-19 test at home.

‘Doing this is going to have a positive impact on ensuring everyone feels reassured, because we will know any positive cases before they come into contact with anyone,’ says Mrs Al-Ani.

Principal Enass Al-Ani recognises that extracurricular activities are vital if her pupils are going to receive the best possible education

‘I want to reassure all the parents that my academy is prepared for children to go back. We’re continuing with measures of hand washing and ventilation, and our cleaning regimes are maintained to a high level to minimise the risk of the spread of the virus.’

Mrs Al-Ani, her staff and pupils are excited about the changes in place this coming term.

‘I know the students can’t wait to interact with others and it will have a positive impact on wellbeing, social skills and creating that buzz around the academy,’ she says.

Parents are also pleased. ‘I’m so glad that they’re returning to school with everything much nearer normality,’ says Zainab’s mother Aisha Begum, a GP’s receptionist.

‘They’ve missed out on sports and after-school clubs. Zainab used to take part in PE and extra homework clubs before they stopped because of Covid.’

Her daughter plans to take advantage of her new opportunities. She’ll also be going into school just before pupils officially return to be tested for Covid, then doing twice-weekly rapid Covid checks after that. ‘It’s easy and useful,’ says her mum.


Ever since children went back to school, teacher Loretta Timmins has dreaded one of her children being sent home because someone in their class has tested positive. ‘It’s a big thing for me,’ says the mother-of-three.

‘If one of my children is sent home, I have to go home, and the impact is massive because it affects every child I teach.’

Loretta Timmins, pictured with her children Lily Mae and Lewis, welcomes a relaxing of the rules 

So, like many parents, she welcomes a relaxing of the rules that makes this less likely.

Not only that, she believes her children – daughter Isabella, 12, is at secondary school while Lily Mae, 10, and Lewis, seven, are at primary school – will benefit from the changes.

Will my child get the vaccine?

Thanks to the UK’s vaccine programme, we can now begin living with the virus rather than living in fear of it. And to help reduce the number of people catching Covid, some children are now eligible for the jab.

Earlier this month it was announced that all 16- and 17-year-olds can now have a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine – the safest for the age group.

Children aged 12 to 15 with specific underlying health conditions – such as those having transplants or cancer treatment or with Down’s syndrome – will also be invited to have the jab over the coming weeks.

So will those who live with others at increased risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19.

Finally, by next month all education staff will have been offered the vaccine.

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‘I think they’ll be happier – it will be positive when children can mix with different age groups. It’s important for the development of younger children to look to older ones and want to be like them. They’ve lacked that over the past 18 months.’

Her youngest two are at 141-pupil St Joseph’s in Dinnington, near Sheffield, where head Laura Atkinson hasn’t just helped her little students cope with the pandemic over the past 18 month, but brought her school out of special measures, too.

The next task is to ensure her pupils are as safe as possible as the Covid rules relax at the school.

‘The end of bubbles means they’ll be able to mix together,’ she says. ‘When I told the children this, they said, “So we can play with our friends in another class?” They were over the moon.’

As well as school assemblies, St Joseph’s will be putting on extra PE for their young pupils’ wellbeing.

‘We’ll offer things our children would never have access to – fencing, for example.’

The children will still be expected to wash their hands regularly and their IT skills will be kept up to date in case they need to learn remotely again.

But for Miss Atkinson, the most important thing they’ll be able to do is go on school visits. ‘It’s a chance to reset friendships,’ she says. 


This article is part of a paid-for partnership with the UK Government

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