Pupils return to classrooms in Scotland for first time since lockdown began

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

Pupils have returned to the classroom in Scotland as schools in the country become the first in the UK to begin reopening as lockdown eases.

Local authorities across the country are taking different approaches with the time frame for reopening - the first time schools have opened their doors since March 20.

Pupils in the Scottish Borders are returning on Tuesday, as are some in Shetland on a phased basis.

Elsewhere, pupils will return from Wednesday, with many councils operating a phased return ahead of the August 18 deadline for all pupils to be back full-time.

Fears have been raised about how well-prepared teachers are to deal with mitigating the spread of the virus, as well as anxiety among staff who are returning.

Alex Bisset, an S6 pupil at Kelso High School, in the Scottish Borders, told the PA news agency he felt safe returning as extra hygiene measures have been put in place.

He is, however, pessimistic about how long the school will remain open.

The 17-year-old said: “I’m feeling quite happy that things are slowly returning to normal but at the same time I don’t think it’s going to last.

Isla Findlay, an S5 pupil at the school, said she felt a little overwhelmed seeing so many of her classmates after five months of lockdown. The 16-year-old said: “I’m feeling safe, it’s just a lot seeing everyone again."

Kelso High School head teacher Jill Lothian says she does not want the pandemic to "define" students but she acknowledged some parents are worried about the move.

She said: “They came in this morning, they were smiling, it was great to see them in school and I hope they’re glad to be back – it’s about learning.

“What I don’t want is for Covid to define them and I think that’s what’s really important is that we take this opportunity this year and move forward – and that’s what we’ll help them with.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon inspects preparations during a visit to West Calder High School in West Lothian Credit: Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said fears are “entirely understandable” and stressed reopening schools is a priority for the Scottish government.

Speaking at the Scottish government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday, she said:

“I know that there will be nerves and anxiety for children, parents and teachers this week – and I think that is entirely understandable."

Parents of school children returning to class in Scotland sum up their feelings:

“Fundamentally, all of us know that the reopening of schools is essential for children’s education, personal development and indeed I think for their general wellbeing and happiness.

“So what we are doing is trying to ensure that the reopening is safe and effective.”

A total of 45% of those questioned in an NASUWT teaching union survey said they do not think it will be safe for pupils to return, with 42% uncertain.

What do the students make of it all?

More than two-thirds (67%) do not feel prepared to go back to their school or college and the vast majority – 87% – feel anxious about returning when it is reopened to all pupils.

In response to the survey, a Scottish government spokesman pointed to guidance on preparing for the start of the new term, which sets out the approach that must be taken, including a number of health mitigations.

Face masks will only have to be worn by staff who cannot effectively social distance, however anyone who wishes to should be allowed. Credit: PA

Social distancing will be in place for adults and encouraged for older pupils, while young children will not be expected to.

Face masks will only have to be worn by staff who cannot effectively social distance, however anyone who wishes to should be allowed.