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Back to school essentials: Everything kids need for the new term, from uniform to shoes

We've found the school gear that's long lasting, functional and stylish enough to please all pupils

Louise Whitbread
Tuesday 18 August 2020 16:37
Although the back to school date is uncertain, now's the time to get prepared
Although the back to school date is uncertain, now's the time to get prepared

The debate around schools reopening in September has been ongoing for the past few weeks, as the government plans for all children in England to go back to school full-time from next month.

Boris Johnson called schools reopening a “national priority”, despite education unions raising concerns over the local lockdowns in the north of England and delays to the national easing of restrictions.

With all this uncertainty, it can be hard to plan ahead, but if you're preparing under the assumption that kids will be returning come September, whether your child is heading back for a new school year or starting for the first time, you'll need those back-to-school essentials, such as pencil cases, backpacks, lunch boxes and more.

If you haven't got around to shopping for the new term yet, fear not, as our guide will help you find the best quality kit around. From the fun to the functional, we’ve rounded up everything you need to check off your shopping list before term starts at the beginning of September.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.


When shopping for a school bag, you’ll want a design that is sturdy but comfortable, allowing them to carry a lunch box, books and drinks bottle at a minimum, but depending on their age, other essentials too, like a favourite toy or laptop for older kids.

For smaller children, in our guide to the best school backpacks, we loved this Trixie mini backpack (Kidly, £28).

This canvas bag is bright, colourful and easy to identify

Our reviewer noted that their four-year-old couldn’t wait to fill it with her favourite toys and try it on.

“Not only does it look good, but the brand only uses organic cotton and carefully thought out manufacturing to be as kind to the planet as possible.

"The organic cotton has been coated to make it water repellent too – and if things get really messy simply pop in the washing machine,” our reviewer said.

It has a simple drawstring and Velcro closing, making it easy for children to pack and unpack without assistance too.

For older kids who need more storage, we’d recommend this Santa Cruz classic strip backpack (Santa Cruz, £45).

This smart style is ideal for carrying heavier items such as revision textbooks and laptops (Santa Cruz)

It fits 17l, with an internal pocket and separate sections for books and laptop, a concealed pocket at the front and additional back support cushioning to help when carrying a heavy bag.

It also has reflective taping on the design and logo.

Pencil cases

We’d suggest opting for a colourful pencil case, especially if your child is a bit forgetful, as it’ll be easy to identify on their desk and in their bag.

This palm print wedge pencil case (Ryman, £5.99) has a fun, distinctive leaf design and will fit all their pens, pencils, rubbers and sharpeners.

Keep summertime near with this palm tree print pencil case

To help them keep everything they need in one place, try this bright stationery pouch (WHSmith, £1.99).

This clear pouch makes stationary easy to find

It’s a helpful kit to see them through every lesson, containing two pencils, a compass with a pencil, a ruler, sharpener and rubber.

For older kids, make sure they are kitted out with this pack of 15 Bic highlighters (Argos, £9) especially if they’ll be revising or completing coursework.

Keep on top of note-taking in class and revision by colour-coding topics

An organised student's best friend, brighten up their study with this set that will help them highlight important sections and colour-code book chapters.


Come snack time and lunchtime, ensure your little ones' food stays fresh and in tact with a colourful and sturdy lunchbox.

One of our favourites is this Stephen Joseph dinosaur bento box (Becky and Lolo, £7.98) that’s simple, straightforward and a good price.

The clips on this lunch box are easy to open for little hands (Stephen Joseph)

It comes with a divider that isn’t fixed so you can customise it based on each lunch set-up, but this stays in place once you’ve decided where you’d like it, keeping everything organised.

We also like this box because the clips are big enough for little hands to open and the fun dinosaur design is printed on a clear lid, so you can still see what’s inside.

Our reviewer found it to be big enough for a sandwich and some chopped fruit or veg. It’s also microwave, dishwasher and freezer safe, making it easy to clean and versatile.

School shoes

Help kids start the new term in style with a fresh pair of kicks that will keep feet comfortable while running around the playground and walking to and from school.

In our guide to the best kids school shoes, the Bobux piper (Bobux, £55) won our best buy, as they are sturdy, comfortable and built to last.

Keep feet comfortable throughout the school year with a new pair of shoes (Bobux)

According to our reviewer: “The shoe itself isn’t too rigid or stiff, as it's designed with a highly flexible sole that supports a child’s natural movement, and is made from a premium leather which is impressively soft considering its durability.”

The brand also allows you to have your child’s feet measured through Strutfit, a website where you can measure feet online. All you need to do is take a picture of your child's feet and you’ll be sent a unique code with the correct size.

Our testers were impressed how scuff-resistant these are too, as they have a protective coating coupled with reinforced toe-caps which help keep these looking tip-top, perfect if you’re hoping to pass down to younger siblings.

For boys, we also rated the Next black leather single strap shoes (from £28, Next) as a more affordable option despite still being real leather.

These shoes feauture odour repellant technology for fresh kicks all year round (Next)

Our reviewer praised the chunky fastening which makes them easy to slip on and off and said the odour-repellant technology made these stay fresher for far longer than other shoes.

These are also available in two widths and half sizing, making them ideal for any pupil.

School uniform

Beat the back-to-school shopping queues by purchasing uniform online this year.

For boys, we'd suggest picking up this two pack of slim leg school trousers (M&S, £11-£17) that are made from a stain and weather-proof fabric. The slim fit will appeal to style-conscious students but the sturdy material will keep them looking smart.

These stainproof trousers are ideal for messy school kids (M&S)

Available in five colourways, they also have an adjustable waist for maximum comfort.

Pair them with these easy iron school shirts (Marks & Spencer, £9-£18).

Pair with these crisp shirts that are easy to iron and stain-resistant (M&S)

The pack of three is available in white and blue, and they hold their shape without looking crumpled. These are also made from sustainably sourced cotton for added eco credentials.

For girls trousers, opt for this two pack from George at Asda (from £7, Asda). Made from recycled polyester sourced from plastic bottles and textile waste, these slim-fit trousers are a conscious choice at an affordable price point.

When it comes to skirts, this two pack from Sainsbury's (Tu, from £7) is ideal.

Pick up a two-pack of skirts to save on washing

Made with a neat ribbon trim, adjustable waist band and permanent pleat, they also repel water-based stains. These are available in three colourways to suit a range of dress codes.

Should the school uniform policy allow pinafores, this John Lewis & Partners school box pleat tunic (John Lewis & Partners, £10-£14) is a smart option.

This simple design is comfortable, soft and smart

It's designed with core-spun thread which creates stronger seams, meaning no matter what they get up to on the playground, it will stay in tact.

For shirts to wear underneath dresses during the summer months, plump for this five pack of short sleeve formal shirts (Next, £19.50-£28), that comes in a slim or standard fit.

This five-pack has one shirt for every day of the week

A polyester-cotton blend, the fabric is specially designed with a Teflon coating to keep it stain-repellent, which means you'll spend less time trying to get pesky stains out of their uniform.

For more school essentials, read our guide to the best kids school shoes and our favourite kid's lunch boxes

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