For some students, by the time they start their stint in secondary school, education has become a grind. They are beset by a type of fatalistic boredom. The monumental task of rolling the academic boulder ever uphill towards the promise of final freedom from compulsory education gets more onerous every day. Some students simply switch off, only going through the motions...

But this year is different.

This year, most students see the value of gathering in a classroom. Of being in close proximity to others and in the same room as their teachers. Of technology, the foundation of their digital native culture, taking a backseat to real, human interaction.

Is it strange to credit the coronavirus for adding this bit of wisdom to students' lives - indeed, to all of our lives?

After the last fraught school year, with hours spent in front of the computer (not gaming or watching videos); back-to-class trials with our faces hidden behind masks, social distancing mandates and the smell of sanitiser supplanting the traditional smells of school...

This year, going back to school feels like getting back to normal.

And, as with every year, shop aisles are filled with school supplies. Of all the goods on display, what to throw in your shopping trolley?

Your school may have already sent out their lists of required supplies, or they may have posted it on their website. In case they haven't yet, Superprof delivers a general list of back to school must-haves.

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Secondary School Uniforms

Most UK schools follow a uniform dress code, and for good reason. UK schools are less focused on aspects of the social experience - of which self-expression through wardrobe and styling choices play a major role.

The philosophy behind the school uniform programme is to level the playing field, as it were. The Hollywood depiction of fashion-label-wearing cliques passing judgment on their less stylish peers is a bit harder to pull off if everyone is wearing the same thing, right?

That very scenario and sometimes worse things than just mere judgment play out in schools all over the world. So, isn't it a good thing that our students don't have to worry about appearances, along with all the rest of the peer pressure the labour under every school term?

School uniforms have changed only in style, not philosophy
UK schools' uniform dress code hasn't changed much over the years. Photo credit: their history on Visualhunt.com

The list of must-have secondary school items is a bit longer than for those who are starting primary school but there is a saving grace: if you can still fit in your blazer or jumpers, you don't have to buy new ones. That is unless you levelled up or moved house - thereby causing a change in schools. But even so...

Some schools prefer their blazers to have the school's crest sewn on. Usually, it is a patch, sewn onto the breast pocket. If your old school blazer is such a one, you might get away with taking it to the tailor's and having a new patch sewn on. However, if your old school blazer's emblem was embroidered on, things might get a bit more complicated.

Besides a blazer and a few jumpers or cardigans, you'll need:

  • three to five button-down shirts
  • at least one tie - two would be better
  • at least two pairs of trousers; the same number of skirts for female students
  • uniform-compliant shoes and socks; tights for female students
  • a waterproof coat

Some schools' uniform policy demands that the overcoat meet their uniform guidelines - a specific colour, with the school insignia on display. Other schools don't mind if students wear their own coats, provided it meets certain criteria. Be sure to check with your school to see if your coat meets the school's regulations for acceptable outerwear.

Today, you have to change out of your school uniform for Phys Ed class
Today, dressing out for the gym means changing from one school uniform to another. Photo credit: otisarchives3 on Visualhunt

Secondary School Phys Ed Must-Haves

Secondary school Phys Ed programmes are much more... shall we say 'active' than those in primary classes. And, not only are they more active, there is much more diversity in the action.

For instance, if your school's Phys Ed curriculum includes a swimming component, you will need to have swimwear and swimming goggles, and also bring your own towel.

Unlike your early school experiences, you will need both trainers and gym shoes because this more advanced curriculum will likely include both indoor and outdoor sports activities. Here, again, if the trainers you currently have fit you, you may not have to buy new ones unless the school insists on every student having a new pair.

The same goes for last year's plimsolls. If they're still in relatively good condition and fit you well, there's no need to buy new ones. You might petition your parents to spend that bit of savings on something you really want, instead.

Of course, you'll need a couple of tee-shirts and shorts; you may consider adding leggings to your trolley to help keep warm as you work outdoors towards your fitness throughout the winter months.

And, speaking of your fitness... how long has it been since you've had a frank discussion about what a healthy school lunch should consist of?

If you have last year's gym bag to pack all of your things in and it's big enough to hold all this extra kit, you can scratch it off your list, too. But, if you changed schools - maybe this is your first year in secondary school, you may have to buy a bigger bag.

All of this buying can put a serious dent in the family finances. Luckily, you can help out by not necessarily needing everything new; if you're OK with wearing the trainers you already have and last year's basic gym kit still fits (and is in good shape), you can scrape a few pounds off the list of back-to-school expenditures.

Stationery for Secondary School Classes

As your education expands into a more diverse and intensive study, as the workload you're expected to complete grows, and as you edge ever closer to the adult world, your stationery needs to increase.

Whereas most primary schools provide students with most of what they need to write with and write on, secondary schools rely on students bringing their own notebooks, pencils and other learning tools.

For instance, unlike in primary school, you will use a fountain pen to write your essays and you will be allowed correction fluid (or an ink eraser) to fix mistakes before turning your work in. As you shop for those items, also remember to pick up a supply of ink cartridges; depending on the subject/teacher, you may need a new one every week or so.

You will also need math tools: a geometry set, a 30-centimetre ruler and a scientific calculator.

Other items are fairly standard: an array of pencils, a pencil sharpener and a rubber or two. You'll also need a handwriting pen, some coloured pencils (maybe colouring pens would be fine), at least one highlighter and a stick of glue.

Clearly, all this kit won't fit in your old pencil case; you might need to get a larger one. And you may also need graphing paper but you will definitely need a supply of notebooks, so don't forget to stock up on those.

Where are you going to get all of these school materials, P.E. kit and uniforms?

A big, heavy backpack can cause back pain
Carrying too large a pack can cause injury, especially if it is heavy. Photo credit: sKamerameha on Visualhunt.com

Other Back to School Necessities

We've made it to this article's last segment and nowhere have masks been mentioned. That's because COVID action plans vary from place to place and school to school. If you're a secondary school student in Scotland, you need a mask but if you live in England, you don't.

More on that topic in a mo...

One COVID-related addition to every student's backpack, primary or secondary schooler, must be a hand sanitiser. Schools do their best to keep their supplies up but there may be instances when the dispensers run out or there's a long queue to clean one's hands. Having your own travel-sized bottle of sanitiser could help reduce congestion in high traffic areas and, even if the school's dispensers are empty, you'll have a way to clean your hands.

And, speaking of backpacks...

If this is to be your first year in secondary school, your old backpack might not be up to the task. You'll have far more to carry and, besides, you've probably grown since that backpack was new; it might not even fit you anymore.

If your school has a uniform backpack or satchel all students must carry, you will have little choice but to do so. However, if you do get to choose your bag, make sure it is durable, can carry everything you'll need - including lunch, and fits your frame well.

If you're not one to buy lunch from the school, you'll likely need a lunchbox, and a water bottle is an absolute must-have. Here again, if you're happy with the ones you had last year, no need to replace them but, as you'll be more active and in class longer, you may consider at least a larger water bottle.

Finally, if your school assigns you a locker to keep the books and supplies not currently in use, you will need a combination lock. Check with your school before buying, though. They might lend them...

Now, find out how schools are keeping kids safe even as the coronavirus continues to ravage...

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.