Is it Safe to Send Kids Back to School?

is it safe to go back to school covid

Is it safe to send our kids back to school this September, while the coronavirus pandemic still lingers?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot in recent weeks. Flea is just heading into Year 11, which is a crucial year for her education. Her school made the decision to end summer term early, and start the summer term in August. So my teen headed off for her first day of school yesterday.

In the run-up to the big day, I had mixed feelings. Excited for Flea to see her friends again. Pleased she’d be back in a classroom with the support of teachers.

But also worried. Worried because I know one of Flea’s friends (who attends another local school) just tested positive for coronavirus. Worried because I know some families taken different views of lockdown, meaning lots of the kids at school will not have been social distancing, limiting the number of people they socialise with, or avoiding travel.

If you’re in the same boat, I thought I’d share what Flea’s school looks like, complete with Covid-19 safety measures. And how safe is it to send our kids back to school?

New Covid School Rules

The biggest change in schools this September is likely to be the introduction of a bunch of new rules and safety measures. Flea’s school has done a pretty thorough job in doing all the required risk assessments and setting up policies to minimise the risk of cross-infection. As a parent I’ve been sent a huge number of documents and policy links.

Some of the most obvious changes in the secondary school are:

  • One way system implemented around school
  • Staggered start times, break times and lunch times
  • Students in year group bubbles, so no socialising with other children
  • Each year group has a designated set of toilets and a designated outside area for break time
  • Students are expected to social distance and not to share equipment at any time
  • On days where there is PE, students to wear PE kit all day to avoid using changing rooms
  • Masks may be worn, but are not mandatory (except on school buses)
  • Plenty of hand sanitiser and hand-washing facilities freely available 
  • Extra staff to clean and mist the school daily, plus an extra full-time nurse
  • Replacing paper planners with online homework diaries (finally!)

flea back to school year 11

It’s School, but not as we Know It

Overall, Flea said that school felt pretty normal. The timetable is as expected, and there’s lunchtime and break time, and sports practices and PE and CCF. Typically for my teen, the thing she was most interested in is whether a teacher can still confiscate your phone, or is that unnecessary sharing of equipment?

As a parent, I feel a little sad that some of the experiences of school are missing. No flirting with the boys from the year above, no school trips, or outward bound courses or school productions. Break times are actually shorter to allow for 30 minutes of extra teaching each day.

The head teacher says the school is focusing on a “traditional education” (I think this is code for ‘we will get these kids through their exams come what may’). I’m pleased, of course, but it’s tinged with some sadness for what the kids will miss.

back to school coronavirus

The Reality of Back to School

Any parent of teens will tell you that expecting teens to follow all the rules all the time is like wishing for a unicorn. It’s a lovely idea, but…

They’re teens. They’re hormonal and emotional and impulsive and frequently irrational. One day they’ll follow all the coronavirus safety rules perfectly, and the next day you’ll catch them snogging their boyfriend in the changing rooms, or sitting on their best friend’s knee in the lunch hall.

It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

Within two hours of arriving at secondary school yesterday, Flea had texted me, shocked. There was an assembly where kids sat shoulder to shoulder. Children were sitting two to a desk in lessons. Nobody was wearing a mask. Even the teachers were saying things like, “Well, officially you should be 2 metres apart, but…”

My teen is not known for her naturally studious nature. To say the least. But she skipped lunch yesterday and opted to study in the library instead. Based on her observations, she was worried there would be no social distancing going on that day.

What Can We Do?

It’s worrying to hear this from Flea, but I’m hoping against hope this was a bit of first day back chaos. My thoughts after sending my child back to secondary school in a pandemic are:

  • Give schools a little time and the benefit of the doubt. They’ve had weeks to put in place policies and rules and plans, and it’s not surprising if it takes a few days to get these up and running once you factor in 500 kids, and a few dozen teachers.
  • When your child gets home, encourage them to change immediately. Spritz uniform with disinfectant spray and hang it outside to air, OR wash it daily if you can. We also use a disinfectant spray on Flea’s school bag and supplies.
  • Remind your child they are only responsible for their choices. Encourage them to look at situations and avoid crowds, wear a mask if they feel it’s appropriate, don’t just do what the other kids do, blindly.
  • Every day Flea comes home with a mask that has been thoroughly worn, I pay her £5. Is this good parenting? No. Will I do it? Yes. Because you have to do something to counter the, “but nobody else is wearing one, and I feel stupid,” argument.
  • Lastly, we’ve made the decision to stop seeing my parents in person except for socially distant cups of coffee in the garden. My Dad has only just stopped shielding and this feels like the right move for our family.


Are your kids heading back to school soon? How are you feeling about it? Do you think it’s safe to send kids back to school during a pandemic? 


11 thoughts on “Is it Safe to Send Kids Back to School?”

  1. Thanks Sally,

    I have to send my 9 years old little boy to school in September, and I am very worried about it. It was lovely to read a post from another mum.

    1. I hope it gives other parents a bit of a sense of what to expect – the good and the scary bits! With younger children I think they’re a bit more excitable but also less likely to out and out ignore rules so fingers crossed all goes well for you.

  2. I’m very nervous about my youngest 2 going back, but more the 17yo. My youngest is autistic and within a special unit, keeping his distance is second nature to him. I’m more worried about college, like you say, hormonal teens in one building will struggle to social distance, there’s also the transport.
    Hopefully I’m worrying over nothing.

    1. I agree – I also think having effectively been in isolation for months means those hormones are desperate to get out! I think all we can do is accept there’s always going to be a degree of risk and trust them to make sensible decisions.

  3. My daughter starts her new school in Israel (Year 7) on September 1st but atm they are only going into school one day a week and only half the class will be together. The rest of the week will be online learning. This is terrible for us as I am very limited in how much I can help her with lessons in Hebrew and even her Hebrew is weak for her age, She’s an only child so no siblings to help her or study with her, and she only knows one other girl in her class so she’s not got a few friends she can call if she doesn’t understand something. I guess she will have to excel in English and maths and we chose French over Arabic so that I can help her with that too. Seriously considering returning to the UK for a few years if this academic year is a disaster. The decision is made easier for me because my erstwhile great teaching jobs and a writing side-line have all cut salaries by about half. I’m not ranting because there are those far worse off than us but just to say that covid-19 might have completely changed our lives.

    1. Oh that does sound tough. I wonder if you could get together with some other parents to have daily Zoom calls for the kids, so they can work in small groups and study together virtually? I know that Flea often had FaceTime open with one or two other kids during the day, and they were studying “together” while they were all home alone.

      Definitely relate to the changing our lives bit, too – my job has switched around completely and it’s been a massive adjustment. Best of luck to you whatever you decide.

  4. God it’s a nightmare Sally. As you know I have one who is at extra risk, and she is sensible, but she wants to be back to ‘normal’ and isn’t prepared to accept any limitations. She won’t wear a mask unless everyone is told to, and she’ll think me spraying the contents of her bag is overkill. So yes, I’m extremely nervous. I’m afraid I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

    1. I think in our house, we had similar feelings in that “nobody’s wearing a mask” “nobody’s doing this” but I just phrased it as – your Dad is the exact age and gender of the typical hospital admission with this disease and your grandfather has COPD so I don’t ask this of you for you, or for me, but for them. Put like that wearing a mask, or avoiding crowded assemblies seems like quite a small ask. But at the same time, they’re teens – they’re going to do what they’re going to do when parents aren’t looking! That’s why I’ve said we just won’t see my parents for a time, as I’m accepting there’s a small but unavoidable risk that we’re both going to catch it through the school.

  5. It’s a minefield Sally isn’t it? My youngest is going back to do her final year of secondary school and after missing her mocks and a whole load of coursework deadlines because of the lockdown, she will be pretty full on. She and we, like many of us are keen that her education resumes and we can start to move forward. My husband is diabetic so like you we were very strict in the early weeks and once restrictions eased we tentatively started to expand our bubbles, but even we have found the social distancing challenging. It will be hard to enforce everything at school but all we can do is reiterate the importance to our teens of the steps and decisions they take and their impact on others and continue to sanitise everything!

  6. HI Sally!
    You hit the nail on the head. How safe schools are for the kids! That’s the main concern of parents in this pandemic.
    with the invention of Covid vaccine i think we will be pretty much going back to the normal. Don’t you think so? and every think will be as it was before the pandemic. This whole covid 19 will become a nightmare soon.

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