Fresh stationery, jammed lunchboxes, and that potent mix of excitement and nerves — the return to school is upon us. But vast challenges remain for students, teachers and parents. With the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation yet to sign off on jabs for 12 to 16-year-olds — much to the Government’s frustration — and masks ditched in classrooms, testing has become one of the last lines of defence against rising infections in schools.
The priority must be to ensure schools remain open. We saw what happened in 2020. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds suffered disproportionately compared with their wealthier contemporaries. And mental health was affected at every level of society.
Safeguards do remain — the Department for Education has set out operational guidance for schools to take “extra action” if the number of Covid cases significantly increases. But much of this needs to be carefully explained to nervous parents, understandably confused at ever-changing rules.
A huge responsibility will again fall on teachers, many of whom have suffered 18 months of exams chaos, appeals and Zoom classes, and will be stressed themselves. They will now be working with returning students, some feeling left behind, less well-prepared and with mental health issues compounded by the pandemic.
We know cases will rise as students return. Without masks or the widespread vaccination of 12 to 16-year-olds, parents must do their part to help schools stay open by continuing to test their children regularly to ensure they can receive the education they need to feel normal again.