“It's fantastic getting back, it really is.”
That's according to Colin Daly, the deputy principal of the North Monastery Primary School in Cork, as older pupils returned to their classrooms nationwide yesterday.
Under the latest phase of reopening schools, 350,000 students returned to in-person learning. Primary schools are now fully open, while fifth-year students also returned at second level.
On the returning pupils at the North Mon, Mr Daly chuckled: “They’d so much news. They really did."
The school welcomed its younger pupils back earlier this month. “It was great to see those lads back. The excitement was huge.
“I think there’s more of an appreciation there for school, because even the fact they get to see their friends and joke and laugh about different things. It’s fantastic to allow them the time to chat to their friends in the yard.”
For the most part, there has been little anxiety among returning pupils.
“We haven’t experienced it yet, thankfully, but I suppose with one or two of them you can see they are avoiding eye contact a bit.
“They are so used to just talking to their own family bubble really. Now, they are back speaking to their friends, to different adults, which is fantastic, but it is an adjustment at the same time.”
The coming weeks back in the classroom will be dedicated to catching up with pupils, Mr Daly added.
“It’s more assessing where they are at the moment, and trying to create an educational plan going forward. A plan where we can get the best out of them, given the disruption, and look forward to seeing the milestones they can hit by the end of the year, and reviewing it then.
“We are very fortunate with the staff we have. They were just excited to get the kids back, to see them, to get their news, touch base with them, and try to see where they are at. Our plan is to try and accommodate them first, and then try and assess where they have landed following the disruption, and bring them forward.”
Second-level students in first, second, third, and fourth year will continue to learn remotely until after the Easter holidays, public health permitting. They are currently due to return to school buildings on Monday, April 12.
The Department of Education said that both the Department of Health and the HSE have reaffirmed that a gradual phased reopening of schools can proceed.
“Public health has reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and is satisfied that these infection prevention and control measures, if rigorously adhered to, will keep the school community safe during this period.”
Enhanced school teams that have been put in place to support schools since October will be available to support schools during the phased return and beyond.
Norma Foley, the education minister, said that today marked another “important step” in the phased reopening of schools.