Millions of English children and teenagers went back to school on Monday for the first time in 2 months, having endured their second extended stretch of home learning because of a strict national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The reopening of English schools to all pupils is the first step in a 4-stage government plan to ease the lockdown while trying to prevent a new outbreak in infections after a devastating winter wave that severely strained the hospital sector.
Since the start of the global pandemic, Britain has registered 124,500 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, the fifth highest official death toll in the world and the worst in Europe.
For adults in England, the lockdown remains applicable, with social contact severely restricted, people under orders to stay at home except for essential reasons, most shops closed, and cafes and restaurants able to offer only takeaway or delivery.
“Getting all schools back has been our priority and the first step of our roadmap back to normality,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter.
The reopening of schools is a huge relief to millions of parents who have spent months juggling work and full-time childcare.
Primary school pupils return to their classrooms and playgrounds with some COVID rules, such as not being able to socialize with children outside a strictly defined “bubble”, staggered arrivals and departures, and frequent hand-washing.
For secondary schools and their pupils, the requirements are more onerous. Teenagers are being mass-tested for COVID — a logistical headache for schools — and are required to wear face coverings in class.
Despite these restrictions, the near-consensus among parents, teachers, child psychologists, social workers and broader society is that getting children back into schools is urgent for their mental health, education and life chances.
Most pupils had missed out on more than three months of school in the spring and early summer of 2020, when Britain was under its first strict national coronavirus lockdown.
In that first shutdown, as in the recent one, only children considered vulnerable or those whose parents are classified as “key workers” by the government were allowed to go to school.
Nonetheless, even they were not having normal lessons, as teachers were busy organizing distance learning for all the others.