With millions of pupils in England due to return to the classroom, the BBC went to Stokes Wood Primary in Leicester – a city where the term traditionally begins earlier than other parts of the country – to find out how pupils and parents felt.
‘I know my son needed that routine back’
Milena, a year two teacher, whose five-year-old son Erik goes to the school, said she was “absolutely delighted” things would become more normal for all pupils.
“I know my son needed that routine back,” she said. “He needed to be with his friends and socialise.”
Milena and all the other school staff have been taking lateral flow tests twice a week and will continue to do so. However, they will not have to test the children, as some other schools will, because the pupils are too young.
“I feel safer taking the tests because I know I’m not bringing anything here and I know I’m not bringing anything home,” she said.
Last year the school was grouped into bubbles, with one bubble for each year group.
This meant that if one person in the bubble tested positive, everyone in the year had to go home.
Fortunately this did not happen for Milena’s year group, but it did for others.
“We don’t have bubbles now,” she said. “However, if we have five cases across the school then we will have to go back to bubbles, so even though the measures are significantly relaxed we are still going to be quite strict because we don’t want to go back to bubbles and send pupils home.”
For Milena, who continued teaching keyworkers’ children in the classroom throughout the pandemic, while simultaneously streaming to those who were learning at home, the lockdowns brought their difficulties as well as their satisfactions.
“It was very challenging for all of our colleagues,” she said.
“You are anxious but you know it’s so important and you want to help out.
“I know there were lots of risks but I absolutely loved coming to work.”
‘We are very excited’
Rhiannon said she felt happy and safe dropping off her five-year-old son Roman at the school.
“We are very excited to get back to normal,” she said.
“I work in a school anyway so I’m happy to come in. I’m quite happy with everything that’s come in place so I don’t really have any concerns.
“The rules have gone but we still have to keep distance and keep things as safe and sensible as possible.
“Fingers-crossed it gets more back to normal.”
Roman also chipped in, saying he felt “good” and was particularly looking forward to “playing”.
‘I think everybody is relieved’
Jane Gadsby, who is head teacher at Stokes Wood Primary, said she was “really excited” to have all of the pupils back in school, while also being “a little bit apprehensive”.
“Nobody really knows what’s going to happen over the next term,” she said.
“Hopefully it will be fine. It’s just lovely to have all the children back and see all their smiling faces.
“I think everybody is relieved that we can go back to normal.
“I know the parents want the children back in school and want the best for the children. Staff are just hoping for an easier year.”
While the BBC was at the school the staff received a phone call to say two brothers had tested positive for Covid and had to go home.
“We are not using bubbles but we might have to go back to them,” said Mrs Gadsby, who added there had only been a “handful” of positive cases last year.
“We didn’t have a huge number of cases but you only had to have one to send a whole load of kids home,” she said.
“We did very well because everybody was so cooperative.”
‘I’m kind of excited to see my friends again’
Ten-year-old Bailey went to school throughout the pandemic because his parents are key workers.
However, he said he was glad the new school year felt a bit more “back to normal”.
“I’m kind of excited to see my friends again,” he said.
His dad, Shane, said Bailey was fortunate to be able to go to school last year when many pupils could not.
“It sounds bad but in some ways, because it wasn’t so full, he enjoyed the extra attention,” said Shane.
“He didn’t get to see as many of his friends but in terms of schooling it was a bit more personal.”
‘We have been really waiting for this day’
Nnenna was dropping off her nine-year-old daughter Alexandra and five-year-old daughter Joandra.
“They’ve missed their friends and they are happy to be back,” she said.
“I think for the parents, we have been really waiting for this day.
“I [agree with] the policies they have put in place and I will just follow that. I know coronavirus is still in the air and we are taking our own precautions but life has to go on.”
Alexandra added: “I feel very happy because it has been a very long holiday and it sometimes gets very boring.
“When I’m in school you are learning and you are socialising with other people.”
‘They are both excited about it’
Praveen has two sons at the school – seven-year-old Anakin and five-year-old Kanan.
“We are just happy they are going to get back into their routine because the last year-and-a-half has been quite tough on everyone,” she said.
“So we are hoping they will get back to their normal routine and back to learning again, and they are both excited about it.
She is glad there will no longer be bubbles, as her sons can mix with other pupils.
“I think it’s a positive thing,” she said.
“I’m hoping for their sake they are able to play with other friends and be able to play together as well.”
Anakin said he was “a little bit excited”.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my best friend,” he said.
‘They can play with their friends now’
Jessica, who was dropping off her five-year-old son Blake, said her children had been going to school “quite a lot” as she is a key worker.
“The school is amazing,” she said. “My kids were coming for two weeks in the summer holidays due to my work, which I thought was very good.”
She said the bubbles “weren’t too bad”.
“My daughter is in year six and she struggled a little bit but we got through it.
“They can play with their friends now. It doesn’t matter if they are in different years.”
Blake added that he was “looking forward to seeing [his] friends”.
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