Students have been attending lessons in-person for a week now, following the slow ease of national lockdown restrictions from the UK Government.
The UK’s third national lockdown started on the 4th January 2021 after a Christmas of relaxed COVID-19 rules. Boris Johnson allowed for three households to get together on Christmas day, thus causing a sharp rise in positive test results at the end of 2020.
Students all around the country were supposed to go back to in-person teaching at the start of January, but were unable to do so due to the national lockdown.
The Government’s intentions were to allow the students to return to school on the week beginning of the 4th January if they were taking exams, while the rest of the years went back a week later on the 11th.
This decision was soon pushed back an extra week, before being cancelled altogether when the number of active COVID-19 cases started to rise. Students continued to attend online lectures and classes, though many were complaining that they were not receiving the best support and were concerned about their upcoming exams.
Today pupils return to schools in England.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 8, 2021
I want to thank teachers, parents, guardians and carers for the work you have done to keep kids learning throughout the pandemic.
Getting all schools back has been our priority and the first step of our roadmap back to normality.
On 22nd February, Mr Johnson revealed a roadmap that he intends to follow, slowly easing the UK out of national lockdown. The first stage of this plan would occur on 8th March, when students would return to schools, and practical university courses could also return to in-person teaching.
It has now been a week since students returned, and we spoke to Kate Smith from Plymouth after her first day back to see what she thought.
“I have been back for one day so far and have massively relished it. Working from home was hard as I was unable to separate my home life and education. Being back allows me to socialise properly with my friends and get the proper help needed from my teachers on certain areas where my performance may be lacking,” Kate explained.
“I feel perfectly safe at school and trust my own self-hygiene. The school provides all of the necessary resources needed to fulfil these hygiene standards, and the new COVID testing system ensures we are able to identify more asymptomatic individuals using these tests,” she continued.
Mental health has also been a large talking point during the lockdown, with parents and students sharing how lockdown is affecting them on Twitter – especially whilst not being at school in person.
“My mental health has been fairly good on the whole due to being dedicated to my studies. However, some days it took its toll when I was unable to maintain a separation between home life and school life. Therefore, I had lost valuable time where I could focus on my relationships with my family or my personal fitness due to the fact I had a lot of school work to complete to a high standard – [ which ensured] I was providing hard evidence to justify the teacher-assessed grades I would receive.”
Kate continued to explain that she hadn’t been to an in-person lesson since approximately the 18th of December, which is a total of 80 days when including the Christmas holidays and half-term break. Though, one element of school that did impress the Plymstock student was the student support, labelling the support as “brilliant” and as a system that has “improved much more this year than [in] the previous [years].”
The GCSE and A-Level exam results raised a lot of controversy last year, when the Government revealed that an algorithm would be used to calculate the results based on teacher-submitted information. This year, the Government have given the exam results responsibility to the teachers, who will have to fairly decide the results based on in-class work, mock results and more.
“I believe the Government have handled [exam results] to the best of their ability as they have been placed in a difficult situation. They have made some errors throughout the year, however, as long as they learn from their mistakes we should see positive progress,” the Chemistry, Biology and Physical Education student explained.
“Personally, I believe last year was sudden, unstructured and rushed. Using past experience, they were able to improve their response this year and handled the situation with greater care whilst still considering those who may have been forgotten last year,” Kate continued.
“I’m very happy with teachers providing our grades. I feel I’ve worked hard and showed my dedication to my teachers throughout all of my subjects and I believe they will provide justified grades based on the evidence they have on my performance so far. If my grades were unjustified, I would appeal it.”
Kate plans on studying Outdoor and Adventure Education at Chichester University following her A-Level graduation as she would like to find herself in an “outdoor sector leading expeditions or within a military career.”
Though, Kate does have some concerns regarding gaps in her knowledge as a result of online lessons taking up such a big portion of the course:
“In certain subjects, I do strongly believe that we have been disadvantaged by not having face-to-face teaching. Certain areas within my subjects do evidently show gaps in my knowledge. I find it difficult to attempt to learn these gaps myself as they are hard to identify without a teacher’s input.”
The return of in-person teaching is the first move towards returning back to normal, and is a great move for students around the UK that haven’t had a pleasant year of learning. However, the Government clearly have a lot more work to do if they want to ensure the next three years worth of students can leave Sixth Form with grades good enough to be accepted into university.
Thank you to Kate Smith for speaking to us about her experience in school during lockdown.