“There was a real buzz of excitement.”
That was the feeling at the North East Campus in Dundee this morning as full classes began to return for the first time since before Christmas.
The campus, home to St Francis RC Primary, Longhaugh Primary and Quarry View Nursery, welcomed backed all pupils in primary one to three, as well as those in the nursery.
And after exactly two months away, there were no signs of nerves from pupils as they took to the classrooms and playgrounds for the first time this year.
We spoke to the headteachers at the schools to find out how the first day back was going.
“It’s been a real joy”
Each of the three headteachers based at the North East Campus expressed their happiness at seeing pupils arrive at the school gates.
Susan Krachan, head of Quarry View Nursery said: “It’s been lovely to see the families.
“There’s been a lot of a smiles and you could really feel that buzz as the children were looking forward to seeing their friends and the staff.”
This sentiment was echoed by Nicola Jenkins, the head of Longhaugh Primary, who explained how families were “delighted” to have their children back at school.
She said: “There’s been a real sense of families feeling lifted by the news and they’re absolutely delighted to get the children back into the school building.”
The feeling was no different among the staff and families at St Francis, with headteacher Neil Lowden describing how he had heard nothing but positive reaction since the return was confirmed last week.
He said: “I would say that it’s been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the reactions of the parents and staff.
“You could see the children start to mix together again, they haven’t seen their friends for a couple of months so it was exciting and positive.”
“You can’t underestimate the social aspect of school life”
The engagement with home learning has been a “positive” experience for pupils at both St Francis and Longhaugh, the headteachers say.
Despite the positivity however, both Mr Lowden and Mrs Jenkins pointed to the social interaction youngsters have missed out on during the current lockdown.
Mr Lowden explained: “You can’t underestimate the social aspect of school life, particularly at a young age where you are learning so many skills.
“Literacy and numeracy are absolutely vital but the social element and the health and wellbeing of the children are right up there as key elements.”
Mrs Jenkins said: “What we’ve found with conversations with families and pupils is that they absolutely value their children’s learning and their social interactions.
“Many of the children have spoken about missing their friends but they’ve also talked about missing their learning time in school.
“One of our school’s aims is that we are ready for learning and they have used that language already this morning coming back.”
Have there been any concerns?
Speaking this morning, education secretary John Swinney described how “detailed clinical analysis” had informed the government’s decision to allow Scotland’s youngest pupils to return.
Risk assessments have been carried out by schools and letters have gone out to all families explaining the science behind the reopening.
It’s this detailed information, the headteachers say, that’s helped put parents minds at ease ahead of the return.
Mr Lowden said: “I haven’t had a phone call from a parent querying the reasons of the data.
“A letter from Jason Leitch went out to all parents of pupils in primary one to three so I think that helped put their minds at ease.
“There’s also been a clear narrative from the council about what the expectations are around physical distancing and face coverings.”
Mrs Jenkins added: “I think because we have shared a really robust risk assessment with families they are confident that the school is a safe place.”
There was also praise for the clear guidance given to schools and nurseries by the local authority, with measures such as two-metre distancing at drop-off and pick-up times and face-coverings being worn on nursery or school grounds among the requirements.
Mrs Krachen added: “The guidance that we’ve had from the Scottish Government and the support from Dundee City Council has been really helpful.
“It’s been quite clear the measures we are putting in place to keep everyone safe at this time.”
Is the phased return the best approach?
In an address to parliament this afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that all pupils in England would return to school on March 8.
This is a different approach to the one taken by the Scottish Government, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlining last week that the cautious approach would make it unlikely any more children will be back before March 15.
Despite the uncertainty over when more pupils will get back into the classroom, both Longhaugh and St Francis are ready for their return.
Mrs Jenkins said: “As a headteacher, I would like all of our children back in the building but definitely when it’s safe to do so.
“We are ready to open our doors when it’s safe and today feels the start of that long-awaited full return for all families.”
Mr Lowden added: “I think it looks like we are being driven by data.
“So given that there will two or three weeks to assess the impact of having young children back, I think is positive.
“Hopefully it’ll mean that the whole school will return when it’s is safe to do so.”