This is an exciting and important week for many families, marking the return of children to full-time education. It is also a vital step forward in the country’s progress towards normality, freeing up parents to return to the office or just to get back into a normal routine. I know that the return to school was patchy in June and July, with some schools achieving a full return before the summer holiday but many more opting for partial or part-time arrangements, as dictated by their particular space restrictions and staffing challenges.

Teachers and school support staff have spent the summer months working tirelessly to make classrooms COVID secure and juggling breaktime and lunch schedules to get us to this point and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. All four of the UK’s chief medical officers have unanimously backed the full return of pupils to school, highlighting that, while the risk of contracting coronavirus in school is very small, staying away from school for any longer would inflict certain damage to children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

Since guidance was released at the beginning of July, schools have made the changes necessary to ensure both teachers and staff are kept as safe as possible.

And, more recently, since the World Health Organisation updated its guidance on face coverings for over 12s, secondary schools and colleges have been given discretion to ask pupils to use face coverings in areas outside the classroom, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances. Getting children back into school has been a national priority for the government.

In many ways, this term will be learning experience for all of us and we will all have to show a great deal of patience and understanding as the new arrangements bed in but I am convinced that nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than getting back to learning, playing and just being with their peers.

I thank all teachers for their dedication and wish all pupils a happy and productive start to the new term.