Nerves, relief and excitement: parents in England welcome return to school

At Marcus Rashford’s former primary, parents say their children have been craving normality

At Button Lane primary school, Wythenshawe, Manchester, there was an air of excitement as children eagerly greeted their classmates. For most, it had been nearly three months apart, but for some children it was their first day back with all their classmates since the first lockdown in March 2020. As families navigated the different drop-off points and staggered start times, the headteacher, Emma Roberts, greeted many of the pupils by name, and asked after their parents.

“Well, I’m much better now,” answered one mum, a detectable spring in her step as she handed her children over to their teachers.

Her relief was shared by many, including Eva Amos. She’s been juggling her role managing a team of workers who support domestic violence victims with home schooling her nine-year-old son. He was initially unsure about the return to early morning starts, but “he ran off and left me and went straight in”, she laughed. Amos’s whole household fell ill with coronavirus after Christmas, so she is painfully aware of the potential risks of society reopening, but knows school “is the best place for them”.

Toni Bryson was also concerned that schools may have to close again, and the effect that further disruption would have on her three children who attend Button Lane. While she might spend the day worrying about how her brood will have settled back in, she says she’s also looking forward to enjoying “a quiet brew”.

Emma Roberts sits in the Key Stage One bay as Year Two children file past for playtime
Emma Roberts, the school’s headteacher. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Amid the excitement, parents also described nerves experienced by some children who had not played with their friends since before Christmas. Janet Morris said her daughter in year six had really missed the social interaction. Morris praised the school, which had included a weekly live session focused on health and wellbeing for the pupils during lockdown. “I thought [it] was fantastic because it wasn’t just about learning, it was also about them getting to know each other again as friends”.

Dan Cairns, who works in social services, said his six-year-old had been quite anxious and was craving a return to normality with all of his friends. “It’s not been a very good period for him”, he said. “Kids just need to be around kids, don’t they?”.

Roberts says one of the main focuses for this week would be settling in and rebuilding those friendships and relationships. “School is where children need to be. The most important thing for children, particularly at this age, is connection”, she says. “That physical connection between the teachers and their peers has been missing, and you can do a little bit of that online but you can’t completely fill that gap”.

Once the children have had some time, she says, the school will look at where they are at in terms of maths, English and other core subjects and decide what extra support is needed to “fill any gaps” created by this lockdown.

Pupils greeting each other at the start of the day.
Pupils greeting each other at the start of the day. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Might that include longer days and shorter holidays, as proposed by the education secretary on Sunday? Roberts is not sure that is the answer. Button Lane ran after-school catchup sessions for some students during the autumn term. Teachers found that students, particularly the younger ones, were too tired for the sessions to be very meaningful. “So I’m not sure what the answer is, really; there’s definitely an opportunity to look at what’s really needed in the curriculum”.

Like most primary schools, the main difference to Button Lane in terms of making the school as Covid-secure as possible is the availability of lateral flow tests for staff members. Measures introduced in September, such as staggered play and lunchtimes for year group bubbles, school dinners eaten in classrooms, face masks in communal areas and “sanitiser everywhere”, have become what Roberts describes as “the new norm”.

Now the school is back to its full capacity – Button Lane had 150 out of its 490 pupils in during lockdown – Roberts is hoping that all-school events will soon be possible. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the school where the footballer Marcus Rashford was once a pupil, sports day is a big date in Button Lane’s diary.

“The moments where we can all be in the same place at the same time is something as a school we really treasure,” she says.


Maya Wolfe-Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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