The first day back at school for millions of children in England has “gone well”, say head teachers.

They are reporting high levels of take-up of Covid tests and compliance with new rules on wearing masks in secondary school classrooms.

Primary schools have opened in full, but most secondary schools are phasing a return to allow time for Covid tests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as a “big day and an emotional day” for families.

At a Downing Street press conference he thanked parents for teaching their children at home: “We all know that the burden has disproportionately fallen on women – often holding down jobs and providing childcare at the same time.”

The latest coronavirus figures for the UK show:

  • A decline in the number testing positive, with a daily figure of 4,712, and over the past seven days 41,225 – down by 26%
  • For deaths within 28 days of a positive test, the daily figure is 65 and 1,441 in the past seven days – down by 34%
  • There were 688 patients admitted to hospital, 5,416 over the past seven days – down by 30%
  • 22,377,255 people have been vaccinated with a first dose.

After more than two months of studying at home, pupils have gone back to the classroom – and an instant survey from the ASCL head teachers’ union suggests attendance levels are “good” and Covid testing is going ahead as planned.

Masks and testing

The snapshot of more than 700 secondary schools found take-up of Covid tests as being between 90% to 100% in more than half of schools, between 80% and 90% in a quarter. But in about one in 20 schools, take-up for testing was below 60% of pupils.

The Covid tests, with swabs of nose and throat, are voluntary – and there had been warnings that getting parental consent had been the biggest difficulty.

Secondary pupils are asked to take three tests in school before switching to being tested twice a week at home.

Head teachers also reported that in nearly three quarters of secondary schools, 90% of pupils were complying with wearing face masks in classrooms, where social distancing is not possible.

“These early indications are very encouraging,” said ASCL leader Geoff Barton.

Although “strongly recommended” by the government, it is not compulsory for pupils to wear masks.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said some students might be “very anxious and nervous” about them.

Testing but no exams

This fourth big return to school in England since the start of the pandemic comes with questions about catching up on missed lessons, young people’s wellbeing and a replacement exam system.

The government is considering measures to help pupils, including longer school days and shorter holidays, according to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, visiting a school in East London, said “the government may need to look more closely at testing arrangements as they’re rolled out” to avoid “lots of groups or classes having to self-isolate”.

Reference: BBC