Pupils across the Harrogate district will be returning to classrooms this week after online learning since the start of term.
While teachers have remained on site to support children of key workers and provide virtual lessons, for many families it is the first time children have been in school since before Christmas.
As well as readjusting to classroom life, including wearing masks, secondary school students will be expected to begin a covid testing regime as the government aims to reduce the number of cases in schools. However, schools are keen to make the return to classroom teaching as normal and positive as possible.
For Harrogate Grammar School, one of the key aims over the remaining weeks of the school year is to ensure students do not become “the covid generation”. Headteacher Neil Renton said they had shown their resilience through all the challenges of the last 12 months:
“They have gone through so much in the last year, they have been used to adapting and changing. They have been at home, then brought back, then had periods of isolation – there have been lots of different scenarios.
“That’s why we should call them ‘generation remarkable’ because they’re more independent and they’re more resilient.”
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Mr Renton said the government’s announcement about the way exam grades will be awarded this summer had given reassurance to students, and the school had organised online sessions to give more information about how teacher assessments will be completed.
With all the grammar school’s students having access to an iPad for home learning, and now being back in the classroom, he said teachers had had regular contact throughout the year to inform their assessments. However, any further lockdown before the summer could pose new challenges.
“Year 11 and year 13 have got three weeks when they get back, then seven weeks after Easter, and in that time we have got to do some assessments so we can come up with teacher-assessed grades.
“If we have to close again, it means doing assessments remotely and that’s much more difficult to achieve. It’s a critical period for schools.”
At Ripon Grammar School, students will return to in-person lessons from Thursday. Sixth form student Hannah Burfield said she and her fellow pupils were nervous but excited about returning to the classroom.
“Despite my positive attitude throughout this lockdown, I admit there have been moments when my motivation has wavered.
“To help cope with stress I made a promise to myself that I would go outside at least once every day, and I feel that this has really helped to keep me grounded and improved my mental health.”
She said many students have enjoyed the additional time with their families, as well as having enough time to complete extra projects or begin planning their university applications. However, they know a more normal routine has to return and hope to adjust quickly to life in school again.
“Despite my initial anxiety about returning back to school I recognise that it is time for things to finally move back to normality and I hope our routines won’t be disrupted by any more lockdowns.
“It will be challenging for all students to return to school and many will find it difficult to motivate themselves and may feel overwhelmed by their work at first. That’s why it is so important, now more than ever, to check in with your friends and to make sure you speak up if you ever need any help.”
It is not only the students preparing for an adjustment this week. Jonathan Webb, headmaster of Ripon Grammar School, said the return to classrooms is important for everyone in schools:
“One thing is clear – that there is no substitute for school when it comes to the social and emotional benefits we all get from interacting and learning together. This applies, I am sure, as much for staff as it does for students.
“We all miss being be able to read on our students’ faces those expressions of joy and confusion, enlightenment and frustration, grumpiness and happiness; in essence, all the things that make us human.”
At St Aidan’s High School in Harrogate, staff are also looking forward to seeing all pupils in school again. A spokesperson said:
“Over the past few months we have been delighted with the way that students have adapted to learning at home and over the last year have been hugely impressed by their resilience and ability to manage the challenges that have been put in front of them.
“We very much look forward to the corridors being filled with happiness and laughter once again and, crucially, face to face personal interactions becoming an integral part of students’ everyday lives again.”