Back to school


By Councillor Mary Evans, Deputy Leader and Children’s Services, Education and Skills.

The start of the new school year can present challenges for families and schools alike. The prospect of walking back through the school gates for the first time since mid-March may feel both exciting and daunting.

Covid-19 has impacted on all of us in different ways and for many children and young people this has affected their education, with thousands not being in school for five months. Parents and carers across Suffolk have done a wonderful job educating their children at home. I thank them for all their hard work. It is important that we get children back into schools, nurseries, and colleges as it is the best place for their education and wellbeing.

While many children and young people will be looking forward to a full-time return, I know some families may be feeling anxious about the return to schools, nurseries and colleges; it could feel quite difficult for many children and young people. I would like to reassure them that we have been working very closely with schools to make sure safety measures are in place for the start of the new term. These include staggered start times, staggered breaktimes, increased hygiene and children remaining in consistent groups. These steps will all contribute to minimising the risk while allowing teachers to get back to teaching children. Each school is different and will have set specific systems in place based on individual risk assessments. School leaders will be in contact with parents prior to the start of term to advise on the arrangements. If parents do have any concerns, I would recommend they have a conversation with their school.

I realise that going back to school after weeks, indeed months, at home could feel quite difficult for many children and young people. It may take time for them to get back into a routine and adjust to life back at school. Children who continued to go to school throughout lockdown may also find it hard with the return of more children and a focus back onto academic work. Schools will work closely with children to listen to their concerns and help them make the transition back into the classroom and there is a wealth of helpful resources and top tips for parents on our website. For example, getting back into a routine can be a good way to prepare for the return to school. Bedtimes, waking times and mealtimes may well have changed during lockdown so adjusting these gradually to establish a routine to prepare children for the new school term will help them.

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In preparation for the start of term, we would also advise families to think about how children will travel to school as arrangements may be a little different. Families are encouraged where possible to walk or cycle to school, but I appreciate that this is often not possible. If children or young people use public transport to travel to school we would advise families to check that their route is still running as some changes may have been made due to the pandemic; families also need to take into account that due to social distancing there will not be as much space on the vehicle. If children and young people travel by public transport, they will need to understand if they need to wear a face covering and how to do this safely unless a child is unable to wear one for health, age, or other reasons.

The months out of school will doubtless have had a bigger impact on some pupils compared with others. We fully expect that there will be gaps in learning. The Education and Learning team at Suffolk County Council is committed in its work with all schools to help them bridge these gaps. Where parents have particular worries about their child's education and the impact of the lockdown, we would encourage them to talk to their child's school. Staff at the school will be best placed to offer advice about how individual children can be supported in the post lockdown period, how learning topics can be prioritised and how parents can support their children.

I would like to thank leaders and teachers across the childcare and education sector for the huge part they have played in the Covid-19 pandemic response and their hard work in getting everything organised and ready for the start of term. I wish children and young people and all school staff the very best as they return for the new school year.