‘Palpable sense of joy’ as pupils return to schools

Independent school heads have been sharing their excitement as pupils return to schools, but one head says there is “much to do” to support students academically and with their mental health

Independent school heads have been sharing their excitement over pupils returning to school today (8 March) after more than two months of remote learning.

Millions of children in England have returned to school today, marking the first stage of the “roadmap” out of the national lockdown.

Shaun Fenton, head of Reigate Grammar School, a coeducational day school in Surrey, said: “I’m overjoyed to see pupils back in school. There’s a palpable sense of joy as we return to a new normal.

“But let’s not pretend that the last year hasn’t taken a huge toll on everyone in education. Students have suffered academically and the mental health and wellbeing of many thousands of children and young people has taken a major hit. There is much to do.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said teachers, leaders and support staff have done a “magnificent job” educating pupils remotely and in school, whilst coping with “government incompetence on a huge scale”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), highlighted the importance of the Government monitoring the early data closely following the wider re-opening of schools.

“It may be a bit chilly: every one of our windows is open. So it’s on with the thermals, but the fresh air will probably do us all good as well as keeping Covid at bay. The future is full of hope, opportunity and new adventures. And I, for one, cannot wait,” said Fenton.

return to schools
Head of Reigate Grammar School, Shaun Fenton, says he is “overjoyed” to see pupils back in school


Over two days last week, Reigate Grammar School administered more than 1,000 Covid tests so that children were ready to get back into the classroom on Monday morning.

The school received almost 100% consent for pupils to be tested. A survey carried out by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found over half of heads (52%) had faced problems obtaining parental consent for Covid tests. Bousted has urged a bigger ministerial push and advertising effort to encourage take-up for.

Fenton said he was “immensely saddened” but “not surprised” that the ASCL had also reported more than half of heads are considering quitting. “Our schools need the expertise and experience of its leaders at this time more than ever,” he said.

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