At school

School can feel like a scary place whatever age you are. And even more so now during the coronavirus (COVID-19). We’ve got advice to help.

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Returning to school and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Some primary schools in England are beginning to reopen for more pupils and over the coming months more and more children and young people will be returning to schools, sixth forms and colleges across the UK. Wherever your children live, they might have questions and worries about going back to school. We’ve got advice to help.

  • Have conversations with your child about what going back to school might look like. You might have to walk to school a different way, start at a different time, the school might look different and teachers and teaching assistants might be dressed differently.
  • Ask your child’s school if they’ve prepared any videos, factsheets or letters for children about changes to expect. These might explain changes to the school and what children need to do differently – like signs for walking around buildings, where to keep belongings and changes in using the toilet.
  • Ask your child what they’re looking forward to about going back to school as some of these things might not happen so will help you manage their expectations. They may not see their favourite teacher or play with their friends – but they might have a new teacher they like and make new friends.
  • Show your child a calendar and look at how many days there are until they go back to school. Think about ways to get ready together. If your child takes their lunch to school, think about ways to make a special lunch for the first day – you could include a favourite snack or a note or drawing.

There are lots of reasons why a child might be worried or anxious about going back to school. They may be nervous about the changes they’ll face – from different teachers to less freedom. They may not enjoy school and are happier at home. They may have experienced bullying or are worried about being bullied.

Whatever their worry, it’s important to talk to your child and let them know you’re listening.

  • Encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult about how they’re feeling. We’ve got tips on how and where to have difficult conversations. Remember, this doesn’t always have to be face-to-face – they might find it easier writing their thoughts down.
  • For younger children, play can be a great way to help them talk about their worries or give them a good distraction when they're upset.
  • If a child is worried about bullying, we’ve got advice to help you support them.
  • You might notice some changes in your children's behaviour. Younger children may start thumb sucking or bedwetting and older children may have mood swings and be irritable. You might also notice changes in appetite or sleep patterns. These can be ways your child is experiencing stress. It takes time to adjust to change and children may need lots of support and reassurance to help them through it. We have more advice on depression, anxiety and mental health.
  • Rolling news and social media can cause a lot of anxiety. Remind children of the facts and explain what false or sensationalised information is. It's important to allow your children to ask questions about the things they see online. And if you don't know the answer, letting them know that some things aren't certain or known yet is okay.
  • Share Childline’s Calm Zone with children of all ages. It’s designed to help children find what works best for them – whether that’s breathing exercises, activities, games or videos to help let go of stress.

It’s normal to be worried or concerned yourself. Whatever your worry – email us at or call our helpline on 0808 800 5000Monday to Friday 9am – 6pm or 9am – 4pm at the weekends.

Remember it’s not compulsory for your child to attend school at this difficult time and parents won’t be fined for non-attendance. If you choose to not send your child, you should notify their school or college so that they’re aware and can discuss with you. Read the government’s guidance for parents and carers for the latest information and advice.

What rights do schools have?

What rights do schools have?

What rights do schools have?

What rights do schools have?

Schools are responsible for keeping children safe at school, and for providing the best education they can. To help them do this, they have certain rights.

  • Controlling access to school premises. Schools need to keep their students safe, so all school grounds are private and they control who is allowed in and when. Schools decide when parents or carers are allowed access – normally only at specific times. Schools can also bar parents from the premises.
  • Schools can discipline students to ensure that every student is safe and is able to learn. This could include verbal warnings, missing break, written tasks, detention or fixed-term exclusions. Hitting or any other corporal punishment is illegal. Schools should consider a student’s age, special educational needs (also called additional support for learning or additional learning needs) or disability and their religious requirements to make sure the punishment is reasonable.
  • Schools can use reasonable force in certain circumstances. This can include protecting a child from damaging themselves, property or someone else, or committing any offence. Learn more about schools’ rights to use reasonable force in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • Schools in England and Wales can take measures to protect their students – including searching and screening pupils for dangerous or inappropriate items like drugs, alcohol, or weapons.
  • Schools can exclude their students. Students can be permanently excluded – learn more about exclusions in England and Wales (Gov.UK), Northern Ireland (NiDirect), and Scotland (Citizens Advice Scotland).

You can read through your school’s written behaviour policy or code of conduct for more specific information on their rules and policies.

Find out more about the laws in England and Wales (Gov.UK), Northern Ireland (NiDirect) and Scotland (Citizens Advice Scotland).

Every student should be treated equally. If a child has been singled out, punished or excluded because of their race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment or pregnancy, this is discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Call, email or submit an online form to our Helpline for advice about what steps to take.

More about our Helpline

If you’re unhappy with how your child has been treated, the support they’ve received or any of the school’s policies, you have a right to complain. There are different ways of complaining depending on what type of school your child attends. More information is available about making complaints in England and Wales (Gov.UK), Scotland (Citizens Advice Scotland) and Northern Ireland (NiDirect). Call, email or submit an online form for expert advice from our Helpline. 

Contact our Helpline

Keeping children safe at school

It’s a good idea to keep talking to your child about school, even if nothing seems wrong. Ask them about their day – but try not to badger them. It’s important that if anything happens, they feel like they can talk to you about it.

As children grow up and start going to school, it’s also important to talk to them about their safety and what to look out for. It’s a tricky conversation to have – but we’ve got lots of resources to help.


Advice for parents

Going to nursery or primary school can be a scary time for young children. It’s normal for them to need some time to adjust to their new routine and environment.

To help them get used to their new school or nursery, you could try:

    • getting into a good routine the week before, going to bed and waking up earlier
    • talking through the school day with them, including playtimes and lunch time
    • making sure your child knows who is collecting them and from where
    • practice recognising their own name and the name of their teacher or teaching assistant

It’s common for children to feel nervous about going back to school after the holidays or the summer. To help calm their nerves and make sure they’re prepared for the school term you could try:

    • readjusting bed times the week before they go back, to get into a healthy routine
    • making sure they aren’t bringing their mobiles, tablets, or any devices to bed that might stop them sleeping
    • helping them get the correct clothing or uniform and equipment ready the week before
    • making sure they eat breakfast each morning

Nurseries, schools and colleges should all have systems in place to identify children with special education needs (SEN – also known as additional support for learning or additional learning needs) and to support them with their education and with taking part in activities. Parents and carers should also be informed, so they can work with teachers to help children and young people grow and learn.

A child or young person should never be excluded, isolated or discriminated against because of their special education needs or disability.

Call, email, or submit an online form to our Helpline if you would like more specific advice about supporting your child. Find out more about what you are entitled to in England and Wales (Gov.UK), Northern Ireland (Education Authority) and Scotland (Gov.Scot). ACE education has more resources and advice to help students with SEN.

As children grow up and change schools, or move to new schools in new areas, it may take some time for them to feel happy and comfortable. If you notice that your child has started behaving differently and you’re worried, it’s important you’re able to talk to your child’s teacher about it. They can help provide a full picture, and can help you support them with whatever they are struggling with.

Worried they’re being bullied?

Being bullied is a serious problem, and never your child’s fault. If you’re worried your child is being bullied, encourage them to talk to you about it, or if they don’t feel able to, to call Childline.

We have advice about how to spot the signs a child is being bullied, and what to do if they are. Childline also has advice for young people being bullied and message boards where they can find support.

Worried about their mental health?

If you have noticed a change in your child’s behaviour, they could be struggling with something at school, like bullying or harmful relationships, but they could also be struggling with their mental health. We have lots of advice about how to know if something is wrong and what you can do to help support them.

If your child has a hard time opening up to you, encourage them to get support from Childline’s counsellors. They also have information and advice for young people on mental health and coping with stress.

What age can a child come home from school alone?

There’s no legal age that your child can travel home from school alone – this is up to you and your best judgement, or your school’s rules and policies. However, you should never leave a child alone who isn’t ready or is unable to care for themselves – learn more about leaving children home alone.

Every child is different – but some schools advise children under 8 shouldn't walk home without an adult or older sibling. 

If you and your child do feel they’re ready to come home alone, it helps to go over some rules about staying safe.

    • Make sure they know their address and your telephone number by heart, in case they get lost or have to navigate home from somewhere new.
    • If they have a mobile phone, remind them to fully charge it before leaving the house, and make sure they have all your contact numbers saved.
    • Talk to them about road safety. They should always look both ways before crossing the street, and never be on their phone whilst crossing a road.
    • Remind them never to accept a lift from someone they don’t know, or let a stranger into the house. They should never give personal information away – in real life or online.
    • Remind them that if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable at any time, they can call you or a trusted adult.
    • If they ever feel like they’re in immediate danger, they should call the police straight away on 999.