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New research from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, and the universities of Stirling and Aberdeen funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), has shone a spotlight on the profound effect Long Covid can have on children and young people’s school experience and wider lives.

A school classroom, with pupils raising their hands. © Getty Images - Nikada

'I have really bad meltdowns where I just want to be back to normal [...] I do half days at school [...] go in at like 11am, and I come home and I just, I’m crying [and] ‘I just want to be normal again,' Said Mae, 11 years old, who had Long Covid for eight months at interview.

Published in BMJ Open, this pioneering qualitative study explored the impact of Long Covid on children and young people’s experiences of school. The researchers carried out narrative interviews over video calls or telephone between October 2021 and July 2022. They engaged with 22 children and young people (aged 10-18) and 15 parents and caregivers of those aged 5-18 years, all dealing with the persistent aftermath of Covid-19 infection – Long Covid.

Participants were recruited through routes including social media, Long Covid support groups, clinicians, and community groups to capture a varied spectrum of experiences. The researchers particularly focused on what interviewees said about the impact of Long Covid on schooling and education.

The insights from the children and young people highlighted the pivotal role of school in returning to a 'normal life' after illness. However, returning to school was often a false hope, rather than a genuine return to normality. Extreme fatigue meant full school attendance was often a quick route back into illness. As one 13-year-old boy described: 'I couldn't really do anything [with friends] at break. I was just resting. I struggled going up the stairs. I can’t do PE. Yeah, I just feel tired after every lesson.'

For those managing to attend school part-time, juggling studies and social activities with enough rest to avoid making 

Dr Cervantée Wild, co-author and researcher based within Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford said: 'The findings highlight how much children and young people value school and education as part of normal everyday life. It is important to listen to the experiences of young people with Long Covid and use their voices to inform practical and achievable recommendations for how educational and healthcare professionals can support them.'

Read the full story on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website.