School buildings brought back to life as pupils return to Leeds classrooms for first time in months
School buildings across the city have been "brought back to life" today after welcoming pupils for the first time in months.
Class registers had barely been called before - after just one day back following the Christmas holidays - a third national lockdown was imposed at the beginning of January.
But today, after weeks of home-schooling and the re-writing of back to school plans and risk assessments it was a return to the classroom for thousands of children and young people.
Parents gathered at the gates to wave their little ones off, children rushed into classes to see their teachers and meet up with school-friends and any apprehensions teachers had about 'getting it right' soon disappeared as they got back to doing what they love.
At Morley Newlands, the headteacher said it had been a "vibrant" morning and more than 600 pupils settled into the day as if they had never been away.
"Last week was a big deal in terms of getting our head around what does re-opening look like, staggering start times, but you would never have thought they had been away. They were back into it straight away. This is our core business, this is what we do, for them, this is what they are used to."
The focus will now be on socialisation before looking at lost learning.
He added: "A lot have been without their friends and lived in the confinement of their own house. We have had reports to say behaviour is decreasing but that is because they are not getting that opportunity to come to school, see different faces, work with other people and have fun.
"What I have said to staff is that, while traditional lessons will take place, they should have emphasis around socialisation and supporting each other's well-being. That is going forward until Easter, we have to make sure the next four weeks are about reacclimatising back into school."
Mr Fitzpatrick said he hoped this would prove to have been the last lockdown and put an end to the disruption and extra pressures that the education sector has been put under.
At Hillcrest Primary it was like the "building had been brought back to life", said the headteacher.
There are 47 different languages spoken within the school community and for the first few weeks there will be a lot of outdoor lessons, drama, play and PE.
Sam Done, principal, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "It is going to be active."
Following the last lockdown, Hillcrest reopened with class bubbles but these have been extended to year group bubbles to encourage socialisation and integration between pupils.
He said: "Today has gone really well and we are almost full which is absolutely fantastic. We have had lots of happy pupils this morning, they are delighted and really pleased to be back. They have been desperate to get back to something like normality, they have been extremely well-behaved and well-mannered. It has made them realise how much they do miss school when it is not available.
"We had 20 per cent of children in over the last few weeks so going to 95 per cent is a big change but with that many little people it brings life back to the building.
"Before doing anything we are putting pupil and staff well-being before anything else. We are having a four week drop curriculum. It is not English and Maths as usual, it is very much topic based work to make sure we give them fun learning before we play catch-up. Parents have been doing a brilliant job but we need to re-engage them with learning in schools and getting back to that way.
"It is just good to be back."
One scientist advising the Government acknowledged it is "inevitable" there will be an increase in the numbers of cases as schools go back.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said a small rise in the R number - representing the reproduction rate of the virus - is less important than the absolute numbers being admitted to hospital and intensive care.
Ministers believe the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccinations should break the link between case numbers and hospital admissions and deaths as more and more people are protected from the disease.
Prof Semple said schools are "absolutely" safe for children to return to as surveys showed that even secondary school pupils are far less likely to contract the disease or transmit it than adults. He said the main risks come from the increased contacts among adults which will inevitably follow.
The reopening of schools comes amid warnings by education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return to the classroom.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he is looking at proposals, including a five-term academic year, a shorter summer holiday and longer school days to help pupils catch up on learning lost during the pandemic.