Perceptions of adolescents on the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to school: qualitative questionnaire survey, September 2020, England

Annabel A. Powell, Georgina Ireland, Felicity Aiano, Jessica Flood, Zahin Amin-Chowdhury, Joanne Beckmann, Joanna Garstang, Ifeanyichukwu Okike, Shazaad Ahmad, Mary E. Ramsay, Shamez N. Ladhani*, Frances Baawuah

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Little is known about the views of adolescents returning to secondary school during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: In September 2020, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), formerly known as Public Health England (PHE),recruited staff and students in secondary schools to provide nasal swabs, oral fluid and blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 infection and antibody testing. Students aged 11–18 years in five London schools completed a short questionnaire about their perception of the pandemic, returning to school, risk to themselves and to others and infection control measures, and participating in school testing. Results: A questionnaire was completed by 64% (297/462) of participants. Students were generally not anxious at all (19.7%; 58/294) or not really anxious (40.0%; 114/295) about returning to school, although 5.4% (n = 16/295) were extremely nervous. Most students were very worried about transmitting the virus to their family (60.2%; 177/294) rather than to other students (22.0%; 65/296) or school staff (19.3%; 57/296), or catching the infection themselves (12.5%; 37/296). Students were more likely to maintain physical distancing in the presence of school staff (84.6%; 247/292) and in public places (79.5%; 233/293) but not when with other students (46.8%; 137/293) or friends (40.8%; 120/294). A greater proportion of younger students (school years 7–9; 11–14-year-olds) reported not being anxious at all than older students (school years 12–13; 16–18-year-olds) (47/174 [27.0%] vs 3/63 [4.8%]; p = 0.001). Younger students were also less likely to adhere to physical distancing measures and wear face masks. Most students reported positive experiences with SARS-CoV-2 testing in schools, with 92.3% (262/284) agreeing to have another blood test in future visits. Conclusions: Younger students in secondary schools were less concerned about catching and transmitting SARS-CoV-2 and were less likely to adhere to protective measures. Greater awareness of the potential risks of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between secondary school students potentially leading to increased risk of infection in their teachers and their household members may increase adherence to infection control measures within and outside schools.

Original languageEnglish
Article number456
JournalBMC Pediatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was internally funded by UKHSA.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Adolescents
  • COVID-19
  • Infection control measures
  • Pandemic perception
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Testing acceptability


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