As we look ahead to the return of schools, it is encouraging news that the target of offering all 16- and 17-year-olds a dose of the vaccine has been met.

And so far more than 360,000 have come forward during the initial roll-out phase.

Although the easing of restrictions in mid-July has meant more social contact between people, we know the start of a new academic year will bring many more into closer contact with each other, and that is why protecting more is so important.

The guidance from the JCVI to expand vaccination to people under 18 comes after careful consideration, and thankfully the risk to young people in developing a serious illness from Covid is very low.

But hospitals have been seeing a rise in the number of un-vaccinated young adults admitted into their care, with a fifth of Covid admissions aged just 18 to 34.

The devastating impact of this has been laid bare in the newly-launched campaign in which young people share their experiences of long Covid.

Their stories of utter exhaustion and the debilitating impact on their everyday life is extremely powerful, and a reminder of just how life-changing Covid can be for any one of us.

But there is always a great sense of optimism and anticipation with the start of a new school year – the shift to the next year group, the move to a new school or college, the beginning of a university course and possibly leaving home for the first time.

These are exciting and significant moments for young people, and although it is likely some protocols and restrictions will be in place, the chance to be back in a classroom will, I’m sure, be extremely welcome for many.

The Department for Education has just launched a ‘Back to School’ campaign, which includes information on the measures pupils and students should expect when they return, and also practical guidance for parents to help them plan their children’s return.

With the easing of restrictions such as bubbles, much more of normal school life will be possible.

Schools and colleges are expected to maintain proportionate protective measures such as testing, ventilation and extra hygiene precautions, and secondary schools and colleges are offering two tests on-site at the start of term.

I think the experience of the past 18 months has brought an even higher and well-deserved appreciation for schools and teachers.

Education is such an important part of our development as individuals, giving us both the personal skills and academic knowledge to progress.

We are inherently social beings and rely on the support and relationship we build with others. We have by necessity learnt there are ways to manage this ‘virtually’ – and much of this capability will stay with us – but engaging with people in person brings out so much more.

I know from the conversations I’ve had with headteachers locally just how keen they are to see students back at school and to help everyone get back on track.

The disruption to learning has been significant and there will be hurdles ahead, but being able to reinstate the structure and support of face-to-face teaching is key.

The take-up of vaccines here in the UK has been extraordinarily high, which has given us the opportunity to see much more of normal life resume, despite the prevalence of the highly-infectious Delta variant.

I would encourage everyone who is eligible to come forward for vaccination, either by responding to the invitation they have received or by visiting one of the ‘grab a jab’ walk-in centres.

I wish everyone a happy and productive return this week and next week, and I would like to thank all the staff at our amazing schools for the brilliant work they continue to do.

For more information about the ‘Back to School’ campaign, visit the website at