Laughter and tears as pupils return wholesale to Shropshire schools

The sound of laughter and shouting, the sight of children rushing around the playground, sitting on an extra large tractor tyre deep in conversation or happily enjoying one of the extra large games on the yard.

Head teacher at Ellesmere Primary School Stuart Roberts watches from his office, overlooking the busy scene with a huge smile hidden under his mask.

And, as the end of break time arrives and the children line up in the classes ready to go back into school, it is like they have never been away.

Today was the day Mr Roberts, along with thousands of staff, pupils – and parents – have been waiting for.

Primary school children across Shropshire returned to their classrooms to join key worker pupils that have carried on the face-to-face learning.

Mr Roberts said: "It is wonderful to see their faces, smiling and obviously happy to be back with their friends they have been unable to see, except for on screen, for more than two months.

"Of course there will be a minority who will have been very anxious about today and staff will be on the lookout for anyone who seems worried or who may have been affected more than most by the lockdown. The mental health of our pupils and their wellbeing is of prime importance. We are so pleased to see the children back with us. Online learning has gone very well but it is hard to carry out our pastoral care role when they are not in school."

As with many other primary schools Ellesmere will be taking the learning outside as much as possible.

On the first day back the Year Fives were enjoying a PE class on the field, while Year Fours were doing a treasure hunt finding clues about the Ancient Greeks and Year Threes were in the undercover outdoor classroom having a mini archaeological dig as part of their look at the Stone Age.

Pupils were welcomed back by headteacher Stuart Roberts

"We want returning to school to be fun and also to encourage the pupils to get used to working together as a team again," Mr Roberts said.

Talon Metcalfe, eight, said he had been really excited about being back in school and had been up early to get there in time.

"I know I have to go to bed early tonight," he said.

Leon Birch, also eight, said he had been really happy to be back at school.

"I have seen my friends on Zoom but it is not the same," he said.

Abigal Xiu, nine, said her friend, Kitty Perkins, had ridden to her house in lockdown last year but not this year.

Both agreed that it was exciting to be together again and with their classmates.

For Alex Naydenov, eight, it wasn't a return to school as he had been in as the son of a key worker. But he said it was very different now with the rest of the pupils back in the classroom.

Marie Rowe is both a teaching assistant and a parent of children at Ellesmere Primary School.

"It is lovely to see all the children back and very happy. They were buzzing when they arrived this morning and when they spotted their friends their faces just lit up."

Speaking as a parent to Ben, nine and Grace, six, she said she could not fault the online lessons and said her children had really been engaged with them.

"But they were very excited getting ready this morning and looking forward to seeing their friends," she said.

Secondary students are returning over the next couple of days simply for testing before being back in their classrooms later this week.

Back in uniform and working closely with classmates

At the Marches School in Oswestry, one of the biggest in Shropshire, Year 10-13 pupils, between 300-400 teenagers, went into school for tests with Years 11 and 13 back in lessons tomorrow, joining key worker students who have been in school throughout lockdown.

Darryn Robinson, deputy head, praised all the volunteers including governors, staff and friends of the school who stepped up to help at the testing centre – the sports hall.

And he praised the students for their calm and mature attitude on the day.

"Everything went really well and we are looking forward to face-to-face learning replacing the online learning that has been in place," he said.

Sarah Godden, CEO of the TrustED Schools' Partnership, which runs six primary and secondary schools across Shropshire, said attendance on the first day back was extremely high.

"We've got 100 per cent attendance in one of our primary schools, and just a few where a couple of people are still shielding or are ill, so our attendance has been extremely high across our schools," she said.

"It's been great to see the youngsters back in the classroom.

"All of our secondary schools have started their lateral flow testing and all Year 11 students have been tested.

"We're doing one year group at a time, starting with the eldest, so on Tuesday it will be all Year 10 returning.

"We've never done our lateral flow testing in mass so we were wondering how it was going to go as we've got to put a hundred or more students through at a time.

"All the secondary schools in the trust have organised this slightly differently to best suit their capabilities and it has all been working really well so far."

The TrustED Schools' Partnership includes Alveley Primary School, Castlefields Primary School, Church Stretton School, Oldbury Wells School, St Leonard's Church of England Primary School and Stokesay Primary School.

Excitement

Parents the length and breadth of Shropshire said their children had a mix of excitement and nerves.

Lucy Bridges from Shrewsbury said her nine-year-old was so excited she woke up just after 5am.

"But my four-year-old was not happy to go back. He wanted school at mummy's house," she said.

Kerry Boyce said her two, Poppi and Kai, were both up and dressed by 7am, so excited to be going back to Mereside in Shrewsbury.

Many parents spoke of very anxious and nervous children and even tears.

But schools did all they could to make the children feel at ease.

At Holy Trinity in Oswestry there were welcome back banners and balloons and teacher outside to greet the children,

Julie Card, a parent and a lunchtime assistant at Holy Trinity, said: "It was so nice to see full classrooms and life back in the building."

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