As millions of pupils in England return to school after lockdown, the BBC went to Chantry Academy – a secondary school in Ipswich – to find out how students felt.

‘I had drills going off while I was working’

Twelve-year-old Ania says she is looking forward to the relative ease of face-to-face learning, having dealt with a few challenges at home.

“Being online isn’t the same – if you’ve got questions after the teacher has explained, [your task] you can’t really ask them, whereas at school you can always put your hand up and ask for that extra bit of help.

“At home, there can be very distracting noises going on; I have a little brother so there was laughing and screaming going on downstairs.

“We’re having an extension done, so during classes I had a bunch drills, which made it hard to work.

“It’s much easier when you’re surrounded by your school mates, as well.”

As a Year 7 pupil, she has only experienced one term of Chantry Academy before lockdown.

“I’ve managed to figure out where everything is, roughly, but I don’t know them off by heart – the rooms or the timetable,” she adds.

‘It’s exciting seeing friends’

It’s been good coming back and seeing all your mates and all your teachers face-to-face,” says Cian, 12, who is particularly looking forward to PE lessons.

“It’s exciting because you haven’t seen your friends in a while, and you get to learn more things, easier.

“You can see your friends and meet with them, and say hello, instead of texting and seeing them in the chat, if they turn their camera on.”

He found online learning difficult at times, especially when he had a query.

“The teachers can’t see what’s gone wrong and they might have moved on to the next part of the lesson while you’re still typing your question,” he says.

“I’ve got three other siblings also doing work, so that’s hard.

“They’re older, I know the least amount about technology so I have to get them to help me and disturb them.”

‘Online learning is very draining’

“It was quite nerve-racking, not being in this sort of social environment for a while,” says 14-year-old Elizabeth.

“It’s weird and it will take me a little while to get used to that routine – getting up early, getting everything done, out of the door and to school on time.

“I haven’t been up that early for a long time. Recently, I’ve found online learning very draining, so I’ve been sleeping longer.”

She says she is relishing the return of socialising with friends, seeing teachers and people her own age.

“Being at home – I do love my family and being with them – but it’s just nice to get a change of scenery, and see other people.

“Not being in school, and with Covid, I lost that, not being able to go out, see my friends.”

‘We picked up where we left off’

Remote learning did have some advantages, as 14-year-old Ellie points out.

“I quite enjoyed it, it was very relaxed,” she says.

“Obviously, I got a lie-in in the morning, the teachers would send you the resources before the lessons, so you could always look at that if the internet wasn’t working that well.”

As for being back, she adds: “I was really tired and I still am, but it’s been really good.

“I didn’t really speak to many of my friends [during lockdown], I’m not much of a social butterfly, but we picked up where we left off, so that was really nice.”

‘There’s nothing like seeing friends in real life’

“It was a bit strange,” says Katie, 12, when asked how it felt to be back, “but it was nice to be around everyone, rather than just stare at a computer screen.”

“I missed my friends a lot, we’ve contacted over social media but there’s nothing like seeing them in real life.”

It was also good to see teachers again, she says, and talk to them directly.

Like Cian, she is looking forward to PE lessons, which could not be easily replicated at home.

“I’ve missed doing actual PE – you can do it by yourself but it’s not the same as doing it with other people.”

‘We just get on with it’

Lola, 13, had just had her first lesson, with everyone in the classroom wearing a face-covering.

“It was… different,” she says.

“It’s a bit awkward not seeing people as we usually would, but we just get on with it. They [face masks] itch a bit, but they keep everyone safe.”

Lola had lofty ambitions for the school year – she had been lined up to play the eponymous giant in a production of BFG, but is uncertain whether that will still go ahead.

Asked what she was looking forward to most, she replies: “I love performing arts, so drama and everything – being back in the classroom, doing those things and socialising.”

‘School in lockdown was calm – I preferred it’

Fifteen-year-old Isla, who wants to become a singer, was able to carry on with her favourite lesson – music – over the past few weeks.

“For lockdown I came into school,” she says.

“I’d go into the computer room and do my work, so nothing was really hard – it was calm.

“We’d be on the computers, then we’d go into the field, I preferred it.

“Now they are all back I’m like ‘ugh, this is my area’.”

Asked if she missed anyone, she says: “Not really, it sounds horrible, but not really.

“But to be fair they came in [during lockdown], my close friends. I’m quite nervous now.”

‘You can’t beat face-to-face interaction’

Fifteen-year-old Harvey cannot wait to see his extended family, and have a proper celebration with his grandad, who recently turned 80, so it’s no surprise he appreciated the social aspect of his return to school.

“It’s very repetitive in lockdown, you get up one day and it’s a carbon copy of the day before,” he says.

“I’ve really enjoyed being back today, it’s just really nice to see people.

“We are lucky enough to live in times where everybody is connected through social media, and technology, but you can’t really beat the face-to-face interaction from people.

“Even just to see the people I don’t necessary speak to all the time, it’s just really nice to see them, it’s a sense of normality in crazy times.”

‘I’d forgotten how to socialise with people’

Fifteen-year-old Kayleigh had got into a routine with three friends to help them get through lockdown, but was not used to seeing large numbers of people.

“Me and my friend, we meet every Saturday for a two-hour walk, and we FaceTime with the other girls – we always have a daily catch up to make sure we are all all right,” she says.

Being back at school, she says, was “nerve-racking” and at assembly “seeing so many people in the same room doesn’t feel right”.

“I’m not going to lie, I’d forgotten how to socialise with people,” she says.

“I didn’t know what to say, you’ve got no plans, you can’t have a proper conversation.

“But it’s much better than I thought it was going to be.”

Photographs by Laurence Cawley

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