What will school be like when it starts again in September?

teacher and students in classroom

The new term is beginning soon – here are the kind of changes you can expect your school to have made

It’s not long now until school starts up again, and for many of you it could be your first time back in a classroom since March.

Of course, every school is going to have its own approach and if there are any issues you’re feeling particularly anxious about, it’s worth checking in with your teachers and asking how they will be handled.

But there are also a few key areas that the government has advised on – here’s what you need to know ahead of your return to school.

Does everyone have to go back to school?

Yes. The Department for Education (DfE) has said that all students in Year 11 or below will have to go to school from the beginning of the new academic year.

As ever, if you’re in Year 12 or 13, you don’t have to go back but you may risk losing your place in school or college if you don’t, as they could assume that you’ve left.

The DfE guidance does also say that if any students have found lockdown “exceptionally difficult, then their school or college may suggest a brief phased return”. If you feel like this applies to you, it’s worth getting in touch with your school or college and chatting through the possibilities.

The other exception is anyone who’s self-isolating, in which case you’ll need to let your school or college know the situation and they should offer you remote teaching.

If you’re shielding or have family members who are shielding, you might still be able to go back to school if you want to – this is something you’ll need to discuss with your doctor before making any decisions. If you decide it’s better not to go back, you’ll be given remote learning. 

students wearing face masks

Will I have to wear a face mask?

In England, you might have to wear a face mask in corridors and communal areas, but not during lessons. The exact rules are going to depend on your school and whether lots of people are catching the virus in your area.

This is something that has changed fairly recently – up until mid-August, students were not required to wear face masks in school.

But on 21 August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a statement saying that anyone over 12 should wear masks “under the same conditions as adults”.

Following this, the DfE changed its advice for teachers and anyone in Year 7 and above, with a statement saying that schools will be allowed to require face masks in communal areas – not including classrooms – “if they believe that is right in their particular circumstances”.

And if you live in an area with high rates of Covid-19, the government guidance says everyone will need to wear face masks “in secondary schools when moving around the school, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain”.

“It will not be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and where they can inhibit learning,” the DfE statement adds.

Students in Scotland and Northern Ireland over the age of 12 will have to wear face masks in corridors and communal areas from 31 August. No final decision about face masks in schools has been made in Wales yet – the decision is due to be made by Wednesday 2 September. 

What would happen if I forgot my face mask?

This will depend on your school, but the DfE has recommended that schools and colleges should keep a small supply of face masks on hand, just in case anyone forgets to bring theirs in, or it gets dirty or broken.

students walking into school

What kind of safety measures might I expect my school to be taking?

The details of the safety measures will probably vary depending on your school or college, but there are a few recommendations that the DfE has made.

These include:

  • Making sure that everyone washes their hands more than usual
  • Regularly cleaning any frequently touched surfaces
  • Keeping students in year-group ‘bubbles’
  • Asking students to walk or cycle to school if possible.

What happens if someone in my school gets coronavirus?

Anyone who has either had a confirmed case of coronavirus, or been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus, might be asked by their school or college to self-isolate for 14 days.

What happens if I’m shielding or I get coronavirus?

You should be given remote lessons. Schools and colleges have been asked to make plans for online learning, in case any students need to stay at home either because they’ve been sick and are self-isolating or if they’re shielding.

Will any of my lessons be taught differently?

There “may be changes to some subjects, such as PE and music, so that schools can teach these subjects as safely as possible,” the DfE guidance says.

Other than that, schools will teach “an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects” and colleges will “return to full, high-quality study programmes,” the DfE says.

What’s happening with GCSE and A-level exams next year?

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said that GCSE and A-level exams will be going ahead in 2021.

There’s a chance that they may be pushed back to a bit later in the summer to allow for more teaching time, although this hasn’t been decided yet.

There will also be a few changes made to some of the exams – students won’t have to answer as many topics as they usually would on the GCSE English Literature exam, for example.

Find out more about what’s happening with GCSE and A-level exams in 2021 in our in-depth article.

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