School and Long Covid

Here we describe what people said about the impact of Long Covid on going to school, college, or university. This page covers:

  • Going back to school/college/university after a Covid infection
  • The impacts of being away from school/college/university because of Long Covid
  • Telling schools/colleges/universities about Long Covid
  • Responses to Long Covid from schools/colleges/universities
  • Strategies for continuing to learn while managing Long Covid

Going back to school/college/university after a Covid infection

Returning to education after being off with a Covid infection was challenging for the people we talked to. Ongoing symptoms made being back in education difficult, including brain fog which made it harder for Ben, Richard’s son, Catherine’s son, and others to concentrate in lessons and when revising for tests. It now takes Beth’s daughter and Katie longer to do any lessons, like writing stories or completing maths problems.

Evie said that her brain fog made it harder for her to take things in and focus in her school lessons. She struggled to do her homework because of low energy levels.

Managing fatigue was a concern for many young people when they were back at school. Amira, Abigail, Harry and others said PE lessons at school were difficult. Beth found if she took breaks throughout her P.E. and swimming lessons she could gradually do more and more. Abigail does P.E. when she has the energy otherwise, she takes a break in the sports assembly room which she says is better than sitting on the side-lines and watching.

Sharifa’s daughter struggled walking up and down the stairs at school because of pain in her back and legs. The school let her use the lift after Sharifa provided a letter from her daughter’s GP.

People also spoke about symptoms getting worse after going back to school, college or university. Often, they described this as “crashing,” “relapsing,” or being “wiped out” and they needed more time off to try and recover. Xanthe, who had been at university doing a Master’s degree, said she struggled to stay awake at her laptop. After taking a couple of months off she said that going back in for one day a week “would absolutely wipe me out.”

Lucy A was off school with Covid for three weeks. She found school exhausting when she went back, which was unusual for her.

When Jasmine went back to school, she “still didn’t feel right” and only managed the first afternoon. She tried to follow school online for two months but also stopped that because she “couldn’t cope with it.”

Richard son’s symptoms deteriorated significantly after going back to school. He started having migraines, developed brain fog and experienced confusion.

There was also fear of catching Covid again at school/college/university which led Francesca’s daughter to have more time off after returning to school when Covid outbreaks occurred.

The impacts of being away from school/college/university because of Long Covid

Taking time off school/college/university or being on a reduced timetable was often necessary to help children and young people rest or attend medical appointments. However, people told us about falling behind with work, losing touch with friends, and feeling stuck while their peers got on with their lives.

A clinical psychologist contacted Gracie’s school to arrange for her to reduce to half-days at school. Her attendance at school was down to 23%. She felt stressed and sometimes felt she was behind everyone else.

Being absent from school also impacted family life as parents needed to be at home more to look after their unwell child (see ‘Changes to work and impact on the family‘).

Emma B’s daughter Freya would go to school for a day then crash for the following two days and not be able to get out of bed. Emma described this like being on a roller coaster and a challenge to manage.

Telling schools/colleges/universities about Long Covid

People told us about how they communicated with education settings about absences or other impacts of Long Covid. Jana provided her child’s school with a letter from their GP. Gracie, Sasha, Lucy, and others said that specialists, such as paediatricians or psychologists, wrote to their education providers with a suggested plan or explanation. Parents said there was a need for more coordination between their children’s doctors and their schools.

Jana said she understood why her son’s school needed a written explanation for his absences from a healthcare professional.

Communication with educational settings wasn’t always straightforward. People told us how it was sometimes hard to explain the impacts of Long Covid to teachers and others.

Amira felt pressure from some teachers to go back to school full-time and said she doesn’t think they understand the effect that Long Covid can have.

Responses to Long Covid from schools/colleges/universities

People told us about the positive ways in which schools/colleges/universities had responded to being told about their Long Covid and the additional support they needed. Positive responses included being understanding, supportive, and proactive in putting helpful adjustments in place. When Emma A explained that six classes had moved rooms to enable her daughter’s wheelchair access to a ground floor classroom, she added that “the school couldn’t have done more.” Emma B’s daughter (Freya) had been provided with a robot by her local council so she could learn at home.

Abigail said her school was “very on top of” ways to help her manage her Long Covid. She was allowed to leave class, including P.E., if she needed a break. She had an early lunch pass to avoid standing in a queue.

Lucy A was going to school three days a week to help her manage her symptoms. Her school provided her with a robot which meant she could be in class virtually on the days that she was at home.

Rosie said her teachers were understanding, particularly her art teacher who helped her work out what she still needed to do for her AS level qualification.

Hannah and Jessica both described their universities as supportive.

Hannah said her university were supportive of her studying from home. She was encouraged to apply for extenuating circumstances because of her Long Covid, but she chose “to get on with it and have the same circumstances as everyone else.”

Not everyone we spoke to said that their school/college/university had responded positively or helped them manage their Long Covid. Schools were often focused on attendance. Ben said his teachers’ responses were a “mixed bag” because some said “don’t push yourself” while others were “the opposite and want me to do the same things and the same tests (as the other pupils).” Amira felt that some of her teachers didn’t believe she had Long Covid and thought it was an excuse because she didn’t want to attend school. Francesca felt the school sent out standard communication to everyone and that this failed to recognise what her family were going through with her daughter’s Long Covid.

Felix said his university didn’t recognise Long Covid as a condition which requires extra time or other allowances. He was “fighting” for extra time to write his thesis.

Strategies for continuing to learn while managing Long Covid

The children and young people we talked to wanted their lives to go back to normal. They wished that they could go to school, college or university as they had before they got Covid and were trying to find ways of doing well in education while managing their Long Covid symptoms too. Rosie, interviewed in December 2021, prioritised going in for her Art lessons, rather than her other two subjects, because she didn’t have to concentrate as hard. It meant she could work with her teacher on preparing for her AS level exam.

Ben prioritised staying on top of “core” school subjects, like English and science, but to save “brain power” he didn’t work on art and drama.