Back to School: How to Prepare

After months of Zoom lessons and home schooling, all children will head back to school next Monday. Boris Johnson announced last week that primary and secondary schools will reopen on 8th March, with breakfast and after-school clubs also allowed to resume. Attendance at school will be mandatory once they have reopened, meaning parents have a legal duty to send their children to school regularly.

There is also news on the exam front. Ofqual, the exam watchdog, has confirmed that national GCSE and A Level exams will be cancelled in England and replaced by grades decided by teachers. Schools can determine grades by using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays. Teachers also have the option to use ‘mini’ external exams – set by exam boards – to help guide their grading this summer. 

Students will be excited to return to real life lessons and catch up with friends. However, many teenagers will be feeling anxious about their upcoming GCSEs and A Levels. Meanwhile, younger children may be worried that they have fallen behind in their schoolwork during the long months of lockdown. 

Don’t panic. Here are five tips to help students prepare for the upcoming term.

Gentle revision

No one is suggesting that children embark on a seven-day revision spree before heading back to school. However, it may be worth spending some time this week reviewing topics that have been covered in class, identifying tricky areas, and writing a list of questions to ask teachers once in-person lessons have resumed.

For subjects like Maths and Science, why not attempt a few practice exercises? Meanwhile English Literature students should re-familiarise themselves with their set texts. This way, pupils can resume their real-life studies with confidence – rather than feeling like they are on the back foot. 

Past exam papers

A big question mark still hangs over this year’s GCSE and A Level qualifications. However, exams watchdog Ofqual has confirmed that results are to be decided teachers, who can use a combination of tests, coursework and written assignments to evaluate their pupils. Schools will also be able to use questions set by exam boards to determine grades. 

While it is tempting to take the foot off the pedal in the knowledge that public exams have been cancelled, it is important that teenagers are prepared for whatever form of assessment they encounter this summer. Past papers – many of which are available for free on exam board websites – are a great way to help pupils stay focused and motivated. 

If teenagers come across questions they are struggling with, encourage them to talk to their school teachers when they are back in the classroom – or to contact them via email beforehand. Alternatively, one-to-one tuition could bring them up to speed ahead of this term’s assessment period. 

Existing work

Schools have been setting work for children to complete during lockdown. However – away from the classroom environment – it is difficult for teachers to ensure every student is keeping up with their assignments. Before school starts next Monday, encourage your child to make sure they are up-to-date with their workload. Nobody wants to start school anxious about uncompleted work, or getting into trouble with their teachers. 

Sleep routine

During lockdown, many children have been going to bed later and getting up later. While this may be sustainable when everyone is at home, lack of sleep can have a big impact on children’s concentration and ability to absorb information during lessons. In the run-up to schools reopening, therefore, try to introduce a more rigid bedtime routine. 

Screen time is also a battle in many households. A report by the Guardian says that children’s screen time has soared during the pandemic. Based on anonymous online habits data provided by 60,000 families, website and app visits in the UK more than doubled in January compared with January 2020, spurred by YouTube, TikTok and BBC News. The average daily time spent on apps rose by 15%.

Research has suggested that screens can negatively affect how quickly children fall asleep and how long they sleep for. Having a couple of screen-free hours before bed therefore could have a beneficial effect, therefore. Removing electronic devices from children’s bedroom – be it smart phones, tablets or Play Stations – could be a good place to start. 

Covid chat

A number of new measures will be in place at schools once pupils return, which might feel strange or scary – particularly for younger children. For starters, secondary school students (i.e those in Year 7 and above) will take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid testing. This means all secondary school and college students will take three Covid-19 tests as they return to the classroom from the 8 March at existing school testing facilities. After the initial programme of three tests in school or college, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.

Staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are also advised to wear face masks in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained. 

These new measures will feel alien to students, parents and teachers alike. It is important, therefore, to talk to your child about what precautions are in place to keep them safe, and how this will affect their day-to day-lives.