Thousands of pupils are preparing to return to school next month, many after several months out of the classroom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Josie Sherman, a 17-year-old student at St Albans High School for Girls, reflects on the damage that has been caused to education as she looks forward to getting "back on track".

COVID-19 has affected everyone, from the elderly, who have been shunned away from the outside world for months to the GenZ that have lost crucial time in the classroom. This pandemic has infiltrated into every aspect of our lives. Fortunately, normality is now slowly reappearing; however, we are finding this lost time is irretrievable and detrimental to society.

As for myself, I am part of the latter cohort. I am part of GenZ and have missed 57 days of invaluable education. On top of that, I am also facing the daunting prospect of taking my A-levels in the not too distant future. With this added pressure and the challenge of mapping out my higher education plans my last term of Year 12 was a difficult one to face not at school. It was been challenging trying to obtain that same level of intensity and in-depth guidance we would have had access to at school. Who would have thought we would be attending online University Open days?

Online school was an experience in itself, as well as a steep learning curve. When you are stripped of a huge structure and daily routine that has been imprinted into your brain since the age of four it is obviously difficult to adjust. There have been pros and cons, highs and lows, things I will miss and aspects I am so glad to get rid of.

Although completing school in the comfort my own house did take some time to adjust to initially, it will be missed. Being able to roll out of bed five minutes before lessons start and completing a day’s work in the ease of pyjamas was definitely a plus and gave me an extra hour in bed.

I also took full advantage of the lack of homework I was set; so, I was able to replace time that would have been spent doing extracurricular and mounds of work after school with socialising with my friends and just relaxing. This was something that boosted my mental health dramatically and made the term a lot more bearable. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to no longer have my eyes and hands glued to a screen for so many hours of the day next term and not face the multitude of struggles that came with communicating virtually - meeting two new teachers online was definitely an interesting experience.

Also, I’m sure many other students can relate to the fact their attention span has rapidly decreased during lockdown, despite being pretty low already. Online lessons simply weren’t as engaging when you were just watching a PowerPoint alone or, worse, a blank screen with just your teacher’s initials glaring back at you. Zoning out or reaching for your phone to scroll through social media is only too tempting and without the usual social construct around you, it is difficult to maintain self-discipline, appropriate concentration levels and produce work to the same calibre.

However, I am not in a position to complain and feel fortunate to be able to use this summer for some much needed rest and recuperation instead of cramming in missed curriculum. The ‘education’ that has been provided during this pandemic varies dramatically with many students having had little to no teaching.

I was shocked when I found a recent report conducted by the NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) that shed light on the fact that a third of pupils felt they weren’t engaged with their lessons during this time away from school. More than 42 per cent of pupils had not been submitting their work and another statistic showed four in ten pupils didn’t communicate with their teachers on a regular basis for the remainder of the academic year.

These figures illustrate the pressing issue of the inequality in education that was received this year and whilst it makes me incredibly grateful I have been able to continue with my full school timetable, just virtually, I struggle to comprehend how these students are expected to reach their potentials when they are left to their own devices at such crucial stages of our lives?

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have two days back in school last term. Despite this being an insignificant amount compared to the numerous days I missed, personally, I found it a huge moral boost. After being sceptical at first to going back and unsure whether it was worth my time when I would still be tuning into my virtual lessons, I only realised after going in how much of an impact those two days had on me.

Seeing some familiar faces, ranging from teachers to peers, and immersing myself back into the school community felt refreshing and rejuvenating. The school had taken meticulous measures to ensure everyone felt safe and comfortable and having human interaction with such a variety of people made me crave the arrival of normality again.

Hopefully, schools will be able to fully operate when September arrives, whilst following the necessary guidelines. This will allow students and staff alike to get back on track and devote their full attention and energies to attempting to make up for lost time and fill in the missing pieces that Covid has left empty within the schooling systems during these last few months. I am only too keen to get back to life in actual classrooms and immerse myself back into school life, whatever it will look like come September.