Children in Scotland and Wales made a return to the classroom yesterday after months of home-schooling – as pupils in England face a two-week wait for their staggered return.
Youngsters between the ages of four and eight put their uniforms on for face-to-face teaching in Scotland for the first time this year.
They were joined by some senior secondary pupils who were allowed back for essential practical work. Children in early learning and childcare also returned.
In Wales children aged between three and seven also started a phased return yesterday, as some vocational learners returned to college for their practical qualifications.
Despite the relaxation teenagers in the devolved nations have been told to stick to two-metre social distancing measures within schools and on school buses, while Covid tests will be made available to them and teachers.
Children return to Williamstown Primary School, in Rhondda Valleys, South Wales for the first time since Christmas. All pupils aged three to seven are able to return to school full time
Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a ‘gradual and cautious’ approach to lifting curbs in England, with the return of children to schools from March 8 – and the resume of almost ‘normal’ life by the end of June.
In Wales all primary school pupils, as well as older age groups in Years 11 and 13 who have exams, could return from March 15, while all secondary school students could be back after Easter, depending on the coronavirus situation.
While in Northern Ireland some primary school pupils will return to class on March 8, while secondary pupils in key exam years will return to school on March 22.
On Monday morning at Inverkip Primary School in Renfrewshire, Scotland, children and parents followed a one-way system as they entered the building, sanitising their hands before heading to their classrooms. Eilidh Hyett, seven, a Primary 3 pupil, said she had missed seeing her friends and teachers.
Pupils arrive at Clyde Primary School in Glasgow on February 22, 2021 as schools in Scotland started to reopen to more of the youngest students
Pupils take part in a class at Clyde Primary School in Glasgow on Monday
Children at Williamstown Primary School, in Rhondda Valleys, South Wales for the first time since Christmas
She added: ‘When we come into school there’s a hand sanitiser box and we sanitise our hands before we go into the class.
‘We always stay two metres apart from each other and we don’t really touch each other and we don’t touch each other’s things.’
Sarah Barr’s children Nairn, six, and Ruiari, four, attend the school. She said she was confident it was safe for them to return. ‘The school has been great at explaining all the safety measures,’ she added.
Una Nicolson, headteacher of Inverkip Primary, said the main challenges would be ensuring that the school remains safe and looking after the children’s mental health.
The school has instructed parents on when to drop off children at the gates to ensure distancing is maintained.
Eleven-year-old Jamie Williamson waved off his sister Ella, six, as she headed back to Lainshaw Primary in Stewarton, Ayrshire.
Clyde Primary, Glasgow Pupils arrive at school in their uniforms for the first time this year on Monday
Two pupils draw together on a whiteboard at Clyde Primary School in Glasgow Monday
Their father, James Williamson, 45, said he and his wife Lorna, 38, a primary school teacher, had struggled to balance working from home and home-schooling.
Mr Williamson, a photographer, said: ‘I’m lucky that my wife is a teacher, so that has helped, but she has her own work to be doing.
‘Not being able to see their friends has been hard on both of [the children] and I really think all the kids should be allowed to go back now. It isn’t good for their mental health.
‘Ella was really excited. She was up at 7.30am, her uniform was on and she was ready to go.
Pupils, aged three to seven, in the playground of Williamstown Primary School, South Wales
‘She’s never been one who didn’t want to go to school anyway so she was especially keen. She told me the main thing she missed was the school dinners.’
The return to education in Scotland comes two months after home-schooling was reintroduced by Nicola Sturgeon following a spike in Covid-19 cases after the Christmas holidays.
Education Secretary John Swinney said it was ‘critical’ that parents follow mask-wearing and physical distancing rules. Urging Scots to follow public health advice, he told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: ‘The biggest threat to the opening of schools is not outbreaks in schools, it is community transmission of the virus.’
When asked if parents at the school gates contributed to prevalence of the virus before this lockdown, Mr Swinney said: ‘The whole community was driving the virus.
Children play a game of football in the playground at Williamstown Primary School, South Wales
‘I don’t particularly want to single out particular groupings – the whole of society was inter- acting too much, that’s why we had to go into lockdown.’
Mr Swinney said ministers would be monitoring data carefully as the initial cohort of pupils returns before deciding on whether others should go back to class.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairman of global public health at Edinburgh University, told Good Morning Scotland: ‘I think we should keep perspective.
‘There will likely be cases emerging in schools over the next few weeks but the vast majority of schools should be fine.’
The return comes as a University of Edinburgh study revealed the good news that Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccinations have led to a ‘substantial reduction’ in Covid-19 admissions to hospitals in Scotland.
On Monday the Department for Education stated that attendance for all pupils in England will be mandatory when schools reopen to more children from March 8.
A coalition of unions and professional bodies had called for a phased approach to be taken as they said bringing all pupils in all age groups back at same time risked triggering a fresh wave of infections.
School and college leaders will be given some flexibility to stagger the return of students due to the logistics of mass symptomatic coronavirus testing.
Secondary schools and colleges will have discretion on how to phase the return of their students over the week beginning March 8 to allow them to be tested before returning to the classroom.
But the Association of School and College Leaders said their return may need to be staggered over at least two weeks due to the ‘huge logistical challenge’.
Mr Johnson’s plans for easing lockdown have been bolstered by the latest data which shows Covid-19 infection rates have continued to drop, with 9,834 more cases reported – a fall of 10 per cent on last week – while the 215 new daily deaths brought Britain’s total up to 120,580
All primary school children will return on March 8 and they will not need to take a rapid coronavirus test.
Secondary school and college students and staff are being advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained under protective measures.
Extending the use of face masks to classrooms will be in place until Easter – and it will be kept under review.
Boris Johnson said the additional safety measure – alongside the twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college students – would ‘offer even greater reassurance’ that returning to face-to-face teaching was safe.
The National Deaf Children’s Society has warned that the Government’s recommendation will have a ‘devastating’ effect on deaf youngsters.
But the DfE has said teachers should continue to be sensitive to the additional needs of their students, such as deafness, in deciding whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering.