Children and parents tell us about the first day back at school: 'Face mask rules are horrendous'

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Year 11 students, wearing face coverings, take part in a GCSE maths class at Park Lane Academy in Halifax, northwest England on March 8, 2021 as schools reopen following the easing of lockdown restrictions - OLI SCARFF /AFP
Year 11 students, wearing face coverings, take part in a GCSE maths class at Park Lane Academy in Halifax, northwest England on March 8, 2021 as schools reopen following the easing of lockdown restrictions - OLI SCARFF /AFP

The gates to England’s schools were thrown open once again on Monday morning as another period of learning from home came to an end. For England’s schoolchildren, new face mask and testing guidance will make the return to school feel notably different to what they were once used to.

Boris Johnson has already insisted that easing lockdown measures must be "irreversible", indicating that he does not foresee schools having to close again. Despite this, unions have already threatened parents with school closures if too many pupils fail to wear face masks.

We’ve spoken to schoolchildren and parents to find out how they’re feeling on the first day back at school. Read on for the best discussion points from our readers and share your own view in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

'I'm sad that we will have to wear masks'

Amy Tennant, a student in Year 12:

"I’m so excited to see other children, to laugh, argue and just interact with them and to feel like a teenager again. I’m excited to get out of my house. I’m sad we have to wear masks when children are going to be tested, so masks shouldn't be necessary. I fear we will get headaches, struggle to concentrate and feel agitated.

"I have struggled with my schoolwork, not being able to get clarity on the things I struggle to understand, despite being forecast A grades. There has been no personal approach to our learning."

'The face mask rules are horrendous'

Paula Muncey, a parent who has children in Year 10 and Year 13:

"I’m anxious and angry at the prospect of my children returning to school. The testing of healthy children is bad enough, but thinking of them sitting for hours in a mask is horrendous. I've told them it is not mandatory but I fear that they will feel pressured to wear one.

"I have been a big supporter of my children's school until now. They have reluctantly agreed that face coverings are not mandatory but say they will be strongly urging students to wear them. I have written two emails to the headteacher to clarify what their position is, and I received a nasty letter from the chair of governors in response, telling me to 'desist from sending any more emails to the school on this matter'. Desist from caring about my children?

"My two teens have been quietly getting on with their schoolwork while they have been at home. They’ve had little feedback so we’ve no idea if they are falling behind."

'The return should be staggered'

Fionn Kearney, a student in Year 9:

"I feel happy that I’m going back. I think they should’ve staggered the return to school. They should’ve done one or two years at a time.

"I have found homeschooling fine and quite enjoyable."

'I'm worried about crowded school busses'

Nida Adis, a student in Year 11:

"I’m definitely looking forward to returning to school next week. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of my friends, especially as I live quite far from my current school.

"My school has had a mask-wearing policy since last November, so I feel relatively safe in classrooms, but my main concern is getting to and from school – the buses can get extremely crowded, there are long queues and waiting times, and often no social distancing during peak hours.

"I’m also worried about the exam grading system for this year and how that will pan out over the next few months. On the whole, though, I’m excited to get back to learning!

"Homeschooling has been difficult, especially as I’ve just completed two weeks of gruelling online mock examinations. I’m in Year 11, so GCSEs being scheduled and then cancelled wasn’t easy to adapt to in the slightest. Add internet outages, awkward Google Meets, and the pressure of running an extracurricular Law and Politics Society online, and you have a melting pot of stress and anxiety. I’m so glad and grateful that I’m getting to go back to school very soon."

'The lack of social interaction has been challenging'

Zubair Beg, a student in Year 13:

"In terms of education, I and many others in Year 13 are still uncertain on the status of our exam grades. At the moment, we've been advised to keep working as hard we can until further notice.

"Personally, I am in favour of returning to school – more so for social interaction. Isolation is incredibly damaging to humans who are generally social creatures, especially young adults who are still developing their social skills for later in life. Furthermore, lockdown has hit young people hard – depression and other mental health issues are now sky high.

"As someone who was home-educated for most of their life, I must say I have found lockdown much more challenging as previously mentioned due to a lack of social interaction. Being isolated 24/7 does really lower your motivation and productivity, and online lessons are worse for concentration and learning overall."

'Homeschooling has been inadequate'

Nicola Fox, a parent who has a child in Year 8:

"My Year 8 son doesn't return until March 11 due to staggered start to allow for children to be tested. When he does return he'll be forced to signal to everyone that he's exempt from wearing a mask because he has to wear a bright green and yellow lanyard. I dread to think what else he'll be subjected to as I've not consented to lateral flow testing.

"I'm frustrated that even with all these procedures the children are still restricted to their year group bubbles and zones, preventing them from accessing science, DT and food tech labs as these are prioritised for the upper year groups.

"When future governments are moaning about the lack of engineers, scientists, doctors they'll conveniently forget that they created this with their disproportionate response to Covid.

"Homeschooling, for my children, has been inadequate. I am a single parent in full-time employment, I can not be a teacher as well."

'Worried about social distancing'

Luna Campbell, a student in Year 10:

"I’m worried about how the school will cope with social distancing in small corridors, classrooms and other school facilities.

"For me, homeschooling has been successful and my school has handled it well."

'The level of testing is ridiculous'

Luke Koleth, a student in Year 13:

"We will be sitting exams as soon as we return to school as the current government can't be trusted not to make another U-turn as cases will inevitably go up.

"Furthermore, the new level of testing is ridiculous considering how little effect the virus has on school kids and younger members of staff. You don't have to test for the flu or anything else normally, why do we need to test twice a week for Covid?

"My school, a boys grammar school, to a large extent, has been excellent in terms of educating us. Obviously the lack of contact with peers has been awful even if I do talk to them on the phone.

"Furthermore, some teachers, a minority, have slacked off and the school doesn't seem to mind that these teachers aren't really doing any lessons. ‘Taking notes’ is not a lesson, especially during A-levels."

'Children have made a huge sacrifice'

Claire Knights, a parent who has a child in Year 6:

"I’m very happy. The return to school is overdue and our children deserve to be back for their education, social development and mental health.

"Children have already had to make a huge sacrifice for the benefit of adults, they now need to be prioritised.

"Homeschooling worked better for us during this lockdown than in 2020. The school worked hard and provided children with more opportunities to interact with their teachers via Teams meetings and other drop-in sessions.

"Online learning, however, is more about completing tasks rather than actual learning. You need a full day of teaching to achieve that, which our children will finally have."

'It doesn't feel like they care about our wellbeing'

Rhiannon Kelly, a student in Year 11:

"I’m dreading the return to school. Our school is making Art GCSE students take a 10-hour exam during the second week back. It makes us feel as though my school only cares about grades and not the well-being of students. I'm more excited to go to college because it will be a better environment than my secondary school.

"Homeschooling has been tricky but not as bad as during the first lockdown. I have completed more work this time."

'I would feel better if schools remained closed'

Joanna Brady, a parent with children in Year 5 and Year 11:

"I feel awful about my children returning to school. I don’t feel it’s safe at all, it goes against all my instincts as a parent. Despite being very ill this past week and still recovering, in need of respite, I would still feel better if my children were not returning to school yet.

"Homeschooling has been fine. We treated it like a normal school day, getting dressed and cracking on. One child has overcome her maths difficulties with one-to-one explanations and all three have 100 per cent remote learning attendance and high grades for the work they have turned in. I’m very, very proud of my children and their hard work."

If you're a parent, schoolchild or teacher, let us know how you're feeling as schools reopen in the comments section below.