‘It was so amazing’: Parents give verdicts on return to Scottish schools

For many parents in Scotland the past week has been even more of a whirlwind than usual.
Jeanette Aitchison and daughter Isla, nineJeanette Aitchison and daughter Isla, nine
Jeanette Aitchison and daughter Isla, nine

From Tuesday, schools began to reopen for the first time since classrooms fell silent in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Naturally this was no normal back to school week, with most using the first few days of term to guide children through the new safety measures and routines instead of simply picking up where they left off.

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As the week came to an end, The Scotsman spoke to three parents about how they and their children have coped.

Beverley & Harry MaddenBeverley & Harry Madden
Beverley & Harry Madden

Jeanette Aitchison, from Stichill in Roxburghshire, saw her daughter Isla, nine, go back to Ednam Primary School outside Kelso on Tuesday.

As the school has only about 45 children split into two classes, it was one of the only ones in Scotland able to reopen fully to all children that day.

“We’ve been really lucky during lockdown because we live rurally and we have plenty of space, so Isla and her two older brothers could get outside every day,” Ms Aitchison said.

“Isla’s teachers were also very consistent. She saw them every week and one of them used to send amazing videos of herself reading the class a novel.

Murray Leitch, ten, and brother Mitchell, sevenMurray Leitch, ten, and brother Mitchell, seven
Murray Leitch, ten, and brother Mitchell, seven

“Isla loves school, so she was very diligent about doing the work she was given. And for me it was great to a be a lot closer to their educational experience and see what they were doing.”

Asked how she felt about the return to school, Ms Aitchison said: “It wasn’t that I couldn’t wait to get one of the children out of the house, but it was a relief in the sense that she was getting what she wanted and needed.

“She was so excited to be going back. She’d had her bag packed and her kit all named for weeks – she was so well organised, she couldn’t wait.

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“The school was good at keeping us up to date about the routine changes, such as the two classes being kept separate and the need to bring your own hand sanitiser.

“Now that she’s back, it’s almost as if it’s no different. She’s getting the bus to school and coming home happy every day.”

Ednam Primary has put in place some safety measures, with more space between children in the classrooms and one teacher wearing a mask and gloves as a precaution due to their own family circumstances.

“They’ve made it as normal as possible because they know that getting back into the routine is good for everybody,” Ms Aitchison said.

Margaret Leitch, from Falkirk, saw her sons Mitchell, seven, and Murray, ten, go back to the town’s Victoria Primary School on Wednesday.

As both she and her husband are key workers, during June their sons were still able to go to their regular school, which had been converted into a community education hub.

“I think it was the right thing to do because they’d seen the school with the new layout,” she said. “It probably helped them because they’d seen how different it would be, with the hand washing stations and things like that.” To allay any concerns among parents, the school’s headteacher hosted a Zoom call the night before pupils returned.

Coronavirus rules include new defined entry and exit points and a ban on parents entering the playground.

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When they are indoors, pupils stay in the same “bubble” of immediate classmates, eating their lunch in their classroom and washing their hands before and after break times. When she dropped her son off, Mrs Leitch caught sight of balloon arches guiding the children into the building – all part of the school’s plan for a “party theme” to welcome them back.

“I waited until the bell went and there was this almighty cheer – it was so amazing,” she said. “At that point I just felt really relieved, because you just don’t know what’s going through their minds.

“Murray had a wobble the night before, there were tears settling him into bed. But they both said afterwards it was really good and they had lots of fun.”

Her daughter MacKenzie, 14, who attends Graeme High School, went back for only one day this week for an acclimatisation day, with all pupils not returning until Monday.

Beverley Madden, from Edinburgh, took her son Harry, six, back to St Catherine’s Primary School in Gracemount this week.

She said her main emotion about the return of school was “intense relief” but he was “quietly quite anxious”, having been absent for five months. After a decision by the council, children with surnames A to L returned on Wednesday, meaning Harry had to wait until Thursday for his turn, before all children returned yesterday.

The atmosphere at the school gates was different. “The parents weren’t allowed to hang around at the drop-off, there was a one-way system,” Ms Madden said.

“I think all of the children found that quite difficult and unusual. It was quite emotional but it was also quite detached as they were kind of whisked away. They needed to get all the parents out to get the next year group in.

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“It all happened very quickly. Normally there would be people taking pictures at the school gates – none of that was happening.”

The alphabetical separation system used for the acclimatisation days also threw up some unfortunate issues.

“Harry’s best friend wasn’t in on the same day as him, so that was a crushing disappointment,” she said.

She added that the next day Harry was “very anxious”, did not want to put on his school uniform and said he wanted to stay at home. But as soon as he arrived things changed.

“He ran straight in and was delighted to see his entire class,” she said. “I think it’ll take a few weeks for him to settle in.”

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