The Back to School study: what young people, parents, carers and teachers think about secondary schools re-opening

Research team

Joanna Kesten, Ava Lorenc, Judi Kidger, Christina Gray, Beki Langford, Jo Williams, Jeremy Horwood

Secondary school children in language laboratory wearing headphones and with laptops

About the project 

COVID-19 prompted the UK government to introduce lockdown measures that rapidly changed the way education was delivered. Most young people had to learn from home, with schools only remaining physically open for vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.

When lockdown measures eased, secondary schools invited some pupils to return to school part-time, while they continued to learn at home. Local councils and schools are now planning to re-open schools fully from September 2020.

School re-opening poses a challenge due to the need for social distancing to prevent local COVID-19 outbreaks. These challenges must be balanced against the benefits for young people of returning to school, such as resuming their education and seeing their friends. To stop the spread of the virus, schools are putting in place a range of measures including hand-washing campaigns, staggered break times and test and trace schemes.

To understand how schools can give young people, parents and teachers the best support, the ‘Back to School study’ will look at how people in Bristol feel and their concerns about returning to secondary school in September.

Project aims

We want to understand the views of young people, parents, carers, and teachers in Bristol about:

  • the re-opening of secondary schools in September
  • social distancing and hand hygiene measures in schools
  • a possible new school test-and-trace study using saliva samples to test young people and school staff for COVID-19.

Researchers will conduct brief interviews with young people, parents, carers and teachers in Bristol during summer 2020. 

Anticipated impacts

Local councils and schools urgently need evidence to help design policies for the safe re-opening of schools in September and provide the right support for pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

The results of the interviews will be rapidly fed back in an anonymous form to education leaders, mental health charities and those producing guidance for schools at a local and national level. This information will help them to support students, parents and teachers – particularly vulnerable groups – as schools re-open.

Findings will also help to shape a proposed school-based test and trace study.

What we found 

The first interim report presents preliminary findings from interviews held with five school staff from three schools and eight families (seven young people, mostly Years 7/8 (11-13 years), and eight parents) from five schools, between 15 July and 7 August 2020. 


Jointly funded by NIHR ARC West and NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol.