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The best back to school supplies to buy in 2021

A new school year often means it’s time to buy back to school supplies. From rubbers to backpacks, here are the essentials recommended by Mumsnet users.

By Anna Cook | Last updated Sep 2, 2021

Teacher and student school classroom

If your child is heading back to school or even starting at a new one, the end of the summer holidays often means it’s time to buy new school supplies. Or maybe you just need to replace some of the essentials regardless of the time of year - despite your meticulous planning.

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Before you delve straight in and buy everything on the list it’s worth checking on your child’s school website as there should be a list of what they need and what they are allowed. It’s all very well sending your child in with a brightly coloured Smiggle pencil case or multi-coloured pens only to discover that their school insists on a very specific shade of navy blue or that they supply their own stationery - something that is becoming more common in primary schools post-Covid.

If they do need their own back to school supplies, we’ve done our research and looked to our forums for trusty recommendations from Mumsnetters on what to bring to the classroom.

Here are the best back to school supplies for 2021.

1. Best overall stationery set: Helix Oxford Clash Filled Pencil Case Exam Set

Helix pencil case

Price: £5.42 | Buy now from Amazon

“They will need a protractor and compass. It's worth buying a better quality.” - nagynolonger

A stationery set is a crucial item on most back to school lists. This one by Helix has a protractor, 15cm ruler, compass and set square, as well as two pens, two pencils, an eraser and a sharpener too. 

It even comes with a clear pencil case - something most schools say are absolutely crucial for exams so there is no risk of cheating.

Despite the transparent pencil case, these Helix sets still come in five colours including pink, blue clash and camo green. 

It’s the perfect kit to help your child become top of the class in maths.

2. Best pencil case for secondary pupils: Hype Rainbow Cloud Pencil Case

Hype pencil case

Price: £9.99 | Buy now on Amazon

“Just asked and he said Hype. It’s very popular.” - Cloudtree

No wonder Hype pencil cases are so popular when there are over 40 designs to choose from. From gold splat to rainbow cloud as well as ombre and block colour designs, there is something for everyone so your child can either express their personality or find one that follows their school rules. 

Mumsnet users declare that Hype pencil cases are incredibly hard-wearing - no need to worry about the zip breaking off on its first outing. They are also large enough to hold almost everything a secondary school child should need including geometry kits.

3. Best pencil case for primary pupils: Smiggle Good Vibes Pop Out Pencil Case

Smiggle pencil case

Price: £18.43 | Buy now from Amazon

“Ah, it's not just us then, the whole of year six at DS's school has gone mad for these.” - WhoKnowsWhereTheTimeGoes 

If you’ve heard of Smiggle then you almost certainly have a primary aged child. 

The brightly coloured stationery store is a big hit among five to 10-year-olds. Their pencil cases are great, especially for those going into Key Stage 2 (Year 3 or P4 in Scotland) as they have built-in calculators and pencil sharpeners, so they’re less likely to go missing.

As ever, the biggest selling point with Smiggle is the design. From unicorns to footballers to stars, there are lots of patterns to keep your child happy. But this isn’t a case of style over substance. The pencil cases have enough room for plenty of supplies too. 

4. Best water bottle: Ion 8 Slimline Water Bottle

Ion 8 water bottle

Price £9.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“I swear by the Ion8 ones because they are leakproof and don't have a plastic straw so it can all go in the dishwasher if needed.” - Thetrolleywitch

Ion8 bottles often top Mumsnetters’ lists of the best water bottles. This slimline model is the same width as a can so should fit in most book bags or rucksacks easily, making it ideal for school. It also has a handy carrying ring.  

There are 15 colours to choose from or, for £2 more, you’ll find more child-friendly designs like unicorns and dragons

The Ion8 bottle is made from BPA free plastic but it’s still suitable for both cold and hot drinks and it’s dishwasher-safe, making it really easy to keep clean.

5. Best pens: Paper Mate InkJoy Black Ballpoint Pens

Papermate pens

Price: £2 for a pack of five | Buy now from Amazon

“I was coming on to say Inkjoy - didn’t know there were so many fans! I bought DS a pack of multicoloured ones; DP grabbed one to write with and exclaimed that it was such a nice pen to use. Cheap too and the coloured ones are nice.” - PinkFlask

Mumsnet users are big fans of InkJoy pens. They seem to live up to their name and actually bring joy.

So what’s the appeal? Despite their low price tag, these pens are reliable, free-flowing and give a clean finish. It makes them ideal for secondary aged pupils, particularly those sitting exams so they can write fast without worrying that their pen will let them down.

If your child would prefer some colour to make their notes more exciting, Papermate also does colourful InkJoy pens, costing £16.79 for 14.  

6. Best pencils overall: Staedtler Noris 122 HB Pencil with Eraser Tip

Staedler pencils

Price: £4.74 for 10 | Buy now from Amazon

“Buy Staedtler ones. I'm the queen of bargains but for pencils and coloured pencils it's totally not worth it. They're the best by far and you can get them at a decent price on Amazon. Don't bother with anything else.” - sysysysref  

Staedtler pencils aren’t the cheapest on the market but Mumsnet users overwhelmingly say that with pencils you get what you pay for. Your child shouldn’t have to contend with broken lead each time they sharpen their pencils. The lead’s 2mm in diameter, making it stronger than you’ll find in other pencils. They may work out at around 47p each but each one will last - providing they don’t end up in lost property. 

The pencils are also shaped for easy grip and have an eraser on the end so your child can rub out any mistakes. Staedler also does a pack of 24 colouring pencils for just £4. 

7. Best pencils for primary children: Stabilo Easygraph B Right Handed Orange

Stabilo pencils

Price: £3.88 | Buy now from Amazon

“I like the Stabilo fat triangular pencils - saves messing around with the holders.” - MichaelaPurple

If your child is just starting school and learning to hold a pencil properly then these Stabilo pencils could make a big difference. 

The triangular shape and moulded grip zones are designed to help your child learn how to hold the pencil with the correct grip. The pencils come in left and right-handed versions so, whichever hand your child favours, they can (hopefully) learn to write well from day one. 

8. Best pencil sharpener: Staedtler Metal Sharpener Double Hole for Pencils and Coloured Pencils

Staedler sharpner

Price: £2.49 | Buy now from Amazon

“For sharpeners, Staedtler small metal ones are excellent, and some art shops will actually sell you replacement blades.” - Saffrone

As well as loving Staedtler pencils, Mumsnet users also rate their pencil sharpeners, especially the small, metal design. This model comes with two slots - one for regular pencils and one, which is slightly larger, for coloured pencils.

If your child would prefer a sharpener that saves them getting up from their desk and finding a bin then this round sharpener, also by Staedtler, will collect the shavings while they sharpen.  

9. Best backpack for secondary school: Eastpak Padded Backpack

Eastpack backpack

Price: From £34.95 | Buy now from Amazon

“DD is moving to secondary in September and she'll be getting an Eastpak backpack of her choice. A4 binder and daily books fit no problem and there are matching pencil cases, tablet sleeves, and pump bags.” - Sgtmajormummy 

Eastpak backpacks are mentioned fondly on the Mumsnet forum, particularly by parents of secondary school pupils. They are hard-wearing and fit A4 folders in easily, which - surprisingly - isn’t the case for all backpacks. Most importantly though, your teenager won’t mind being seen with it.

The backpacks come in a range of styles and designs so even if your child’s school has a uniform policy for bags, you should be able to find one that suits. The contrasting colour lining gives extra style credentials without breaking (most) schools’ rules. 

Plus it includes a smaller zipped pocket, which is great for their bus passes/wallet/pencil cases too. 

10. Best backpack for primary school: Smiggle Giggle Kids School Backpack

Smiggle backpack

Price: £34.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“We’ve had Smiggle for DS at that age... lasted a year so far and still going, plus they are huge and can fit loads of stuff in.” -  MyHairyToe

The Smiggle Kids School Backpack from their Giggle collection is, as you’d expect from Smiggle, bright and colourful so is bound to appeal to most primary children. There are lots of designs to choose from.

Each backpack has two zipped compartments. The main one has a double zip and there’s a mesh drink bottle pocket. It also has padded adjustable shoulder straps and a carry handle so even though they won’t be carrying around tons of books, it helps keep the weight evenly distributed. You can also buy matching lunchboxes separately, for £14.95, if your child is going to be having packed lunches.

11. Best lunch box: Sistema Bento Cube Box

Sistema lunch box

Price: £8.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“DS uses the Sistema Bento Cube Box (Amazon sell them for about £8) as it keeps all the different types of food separate.” - Scrivette

If your idea of a lunch box is a simple plastic Tupperware style affair then think again. This Sistema Bento Box is designed with separate compartments to keep items like sandwiches and crudités from touching and it helps stop disaster from striking if their yoghurt leaks  - no more soggy sandwiches. 

The compartments are adjustable so will suit whatever type of food you put in it. But, at just £8, it’s not pricey at all. 

It’s also made from BPA free plastic and is dishwasher-safe to make cleaning up after lunch even easier. 

12. Best notepad for secondary: Pukka Pad A5 Pack of Three

Pukka pads

Price: From £7.60 for three | Buy now from Amazon

“My DDs are fans of Pukka pads with dividers for subjects.” - Lidlfix 

Pukka Pads get mentioned on Mumsnet a lot. The paper is good quality at 80gsm and each of the three notebooks has 200 pages, which tear out really easily thanks to the perforated edges. It's worth checking if your child needs A5 or A4 before buying.

As well as the standard lined notebooks, for secondary aged children it can be worth getting grid paper for maths and graph versions for science too.

13. Best notepad for primary: Handwriting Practice Paper: 100 Pages

Handwriting practice paper

Price: £3.49 | Buy now from Amazon

“I would use handwriting lines (narrow lines for small letters with a line above and below to show where ascenders -h,b,d,l,k and descenders - g j, p, q,y should go.” - Mrz

This 100-page notebook has double lines, which helps primary children learn how to form letters properly. It helps them keep letters like a, n and m all the same size, while learning how high letters like h and t should go and how low the tails on letters like j and y should go. 

Whether they are learning cursive or print it should help your child neaten up their writing and teach them good handwriting habits. 

14. Best folder set: Eastlight A4 Ring Binder 2-D Ring Bright Colour Pack of 6

Eastlight folders

Price: £12.73 | Buy now from Amazon

“DS's last teacher gave me a good tip to colour code the timetable and then use the relevant colour for covering books etc. So as an example English is green all his books are covered in green paper and he has a green folder/wallet for any homework.” - Chrysanthemum5

For secondary children folders can be an essential - usually one per subject. It stops notes from ending up screwed up in the bottom of their bag, never to see the light of day again. 

Some users have found that if their children colour code the subjects it helps them stay organised and makes sure they bring in the right notes on the right day. 

Colourful dividers, for under £4 a set, can also help them organise their notes.

15. Best printer: HP Envy 6032 All in One Colour Printer

HP printer

Price: £88.07 | Buy now from Amazon

“We have an HP Envy printer/copier/scanner. It must be six or seven years old. Never had a problem with it. Prints wirelessly from whatever device – PC, work laptop, DC’s laptop or tablet/mobile.” - Weallhavewings

During homeschooling a printer became an essential piece of kit for most families. They were necessary for printing seemingly endless worksheets.

This HP Envy model is ideal because it’s wireless and you can print from a laptop or desktop as well as a mobile or tablet. It does black and white and colour and prints double-sided to save paper. There’s also a five-month trial of Instant Ink - a monthly ink subscription - included.

 

16. Best laptop pad: Mksutary Laptop Desk

Mksutary laptop stand

Price: £24.99| Buy now from Amazon

“I have a nestling laptop stand I bought from Amazon. The legs and tray are fully adjustable and can be used anywhere. I use it sitting on the sofa, in bed, on the floor. it’s amazing.” -  Sunshineandshowers21

If you’re working from home or if desk space is at a premium at your house then a nestling laptop stand can help your secondary school child do their homework or complete online school. This one, by Mksutary, is ergonomically designed and the adjustable legs will help save your child back pain. 

It has ventilation holes to stop their laptop from overheating and moveable stoppers so it is suitable for a whole range of laptops. It also has six sturdy lockable joints to stop the laptop from going flying.   

17. Best planner: School Planner Company Academic Student Planner

School Planner company

Price: £8 | Buy now from Amazon

“I had a School Planner Company A4 spiral bound one this year and really liked it. Already dated, different numbers of lessons available. They do A5 ones and ring binder ones as well. Not the prettiest, but functional.” - Frlrlrubert 

Teachers on Mumsnet really rate planners by The School Planning Company and they can be great for secondary pupils. This one has a week-to-view diary for the academic year, blank timetables for each term as well as a year planner and a monthly planning section. It has a plastic cover making it extra durable, especially when it gets chucked in their school bags.

Watch out though as some schools do all their homework planning online while others provide physical planners so check if you need to shell out for one. 

 

18. Best erasable highlighters: Erasable Highlighters Assorted Colours

Erasable highlighters

Price: £11.59 | Buy now from Amazon

“I really love using erasable coloured pens. They come in different colours and there are lots of highlighters but the best part is I can change things around if plans change.” - ReeRi

Highlighters are usually a secondary school must-have and these erasable versions are a game-changer. One end is a traditional highlighter with a chisel tip for wide highlights or narrow underlines, but if you highlight the wrong bit then turn the pen over and the other end is an eraser.

This pack is a bargain as, for under £12, you get 10 different colours.

What back to school supplies do I need for my child?

The back to school supplies you need for your child will depend very much on your child’s school and their rules. Some schools, particularly primary schools, post-Covid provide all necessary items except for lunch boxes and backpacks. Others insist you get everything on a predetermined list. And, while some schools will allow bright Smiggle-style backpacks, others will insist your child has regulation colours, usually the same as the school colours - be it navy, green or red. 

As one user, BerriesandLeaves says: ‘It does vary from school to school. Someone said no need for glue or colour pencils, whereas they are on the ‘essential items’ list for DC's school. They use glue to stick papers in their exercise books all the time.”

 Here are some of the essentials to consider buying: 

Mumsnet users tend to say that when it comes to stationery look for trusty brands like Staedtler for pencils and sharpeners, and Hype for long-lasting pencil cases.

What supplies do you need for online school? 

The supplies your child will need for online school are pretty similar to the list above - whether that’s for homework or for lockdown. Even if there are no more lockdowns, your child will need a supply of stationery and items like printers so they can do their homework. And, as one user says: “Unless your [child] is INCREDIBLY organised, expect lots of stuff to go missing so have back up supplies at home.”  

As well as the items listed above if you can, it’s worth getting:

How we chose our recommendations

All of our recommendations for back to school supplies came from Mumsnet users themselves. We searched our forums to find out which items, from small things like pens and pencils to the big-ticket items like printers and backpacks, Mumsnetters really rated. We then collated this list of the best products for children heading back to the classroom this September.

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Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.