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Children in school

To understand how children experienced the return to school, we commissioned a survey of 1,500 children who had been back to school in some way since the start of the September term. The survey ran between the 5th and 11th October 2020. Read the full report, “Some sort of normal”.

Amongst other questions, we asked children to tell us in their own words, thinking about returning to school, what (if anything) they are happy about. Of the 74% of children who answered in their own words, 67% of responses mentioned ‘friend’ or ‘mate’. The overwhelming majority of their answers were about seeing friends again. This reflects findings from our stress survey where a fifth of children said it made them feel stressed not to see their friends. 26% of the children said they are not happy about anything.

“Being back in my friendship group. I am an only child and have missed that, especially as we are in a lockdown area.” Girl, 17

Children were also happy about having lessons in person, and being able to learn at school:

“Being back at school and learning properly in person again.” Boy, 11

“Being able to be taught by teachers and having the structure back to school life” Girl, 15

“Learning again because the summer was boring” Girl, 11

When we spoke to a group of 7 GCSE students about returning to school after lockdown, one of them said that it made him realise how important school is, and they all agreed that they learned better with in-person lessons. Some children in our survey wrote that they were happy with their teachers:

“Just being at school I like my new teacher” Girl, 9

A few children also wrote about how well they thought their school had handled the pandemic:

“How good my school is, it has been exciting and they have done lots to make an almost full timetable when we must self-isolate” Girl, 11

However, this was not the case for everyone. 2% of children disagreed with the statement “I understand what the coronavirus guidelines are in my school and how to follow them”. 22 children told us why they disagreed:

“No one is following them. No windows open. One way system creates chaos in the corridors which gets blocked by hundreds of kids.” Boy, 13

“There are no guidelines and I worry every day that I am going to get covid 19 and give it to my mum” Girl, 15

“No one at my school knows what the guidelines are, not even teachers.” Boy, 9

“Students aren’t social distancing properly and often saying jokes about corona. Teachers are confused and parents don’t seem to know how to queue” Girl, 10

The importance of having routine in your life is something that came up throughout our ‘lockdown experiences’ conversations with children during lockdown, as well as in our recent stress survey. When thinking about going back to school, some children wrote about returning to normality making them happy:

“Returning to normality” Boy, 17

Having something to do / a routine” Girl, 17

“A degree of normality” Boy, 14

We also asked children to tell us in their own words, thinking about returning to school what (if anything) they are concerned about. 60% of children said they are not concerned about anything. Of the 40% who answered in their own words, many children wrote about being worried that they themselves or someone in their year catches the virus and about the potential consequences which would include missing more lessons, bringing the virus to their families, and losing time:

“Catching coronavirus and missing more lessons” Girl, 11

“Catching the virus and bringing it to my family or my family dying they say it causes death but I have to sit with 30 children in a class” Boy, 14

“Losing too much time. I already had to isolate because another boy in my class tested positive. There are classes in different years isolating all the time. This just disrupts my learning even more and I sit A levels in the summer. I am really stressed about it” Girl, 17

A few children were concerned that not everyone at their school was following the rules which could put them at risk, including the risk some feel they are facing on their journeys to school:

“Hygiene of other students” Girl, 13

“None of the other kids are wearing facemasks or following the social distancing rules, my parents are so worried they are thinking about pulling me out of school all together” Girl, 16

“Travelling on the bus, no-one seems to bother wearing their masks” Boy, 17

Also the prospect of areas going back into lockdown and therefore not being able to learn as well as they now again are, made some children concerned:

“Having to go back into lockdown. Learning from home again” Girl, 12

“If our school closes as I’m autistic and need teacher assistance help” Girl, 13

“My school closing again, I don’t want schools to have to close again. I don’t want to miss out on education” Girl, 9

Many children also wrote about being generally concerned about catching up with work:

“Not having enough time to catch up with things” Boy, 17

“Not studying well enough to pass my future exams and being held accountable for that” Boy, 14

“I feel I won’t catch up on what I’ve missed before gcses. I feel stressed” Girl, 14

Especially for some older children this was a concern as they are thinking about their futures and upcoming exams:

“I am in year 11 and take my GSCE’s, I don’t want to be assessed on my classwork, I want to take final exams” Boy, 15

“School closing again and the impact on exams. Also selecting uni and courses without proper Open Days.” Girl, 17

Whilst seeing school friends again was the main thing children were happy about, a few children wrote about being worried about bullying. Just as some children wrote in our first stress survey just before lockdown, bullying has become a real concern for some children again:

And a few children were concerned about their and their peers’ mental health:

“Teachers attitude toward mental health issues” Girl, 16

“I have so many mixed emotions and anxiety I don’t know how to handle things” Girl, 14

Our return to school survey shows that the overwhelming majority of children find it very important for their learning to be back at school, and the prospect of schools closing again and falling behind in their school work make them concerned. Most children told us that they learn better in person, that they like to be able to ask a question straight away and that they enjoy having a routine and seeing their friends at school.

With the introduction of a second lockdown later this week, it is more important that we continue to make sure schools stay open whenever possible, so children can receive the education they have a right to receive.

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