Published: 17:41, 23 June 2020
| Updated: 18:06, 23 June 2020
A primary school in Swanley is among the first in the county to welcome back pupils from all year groups.
St Paul's Church of England Primary saw its final year group return as it completed its phased reopening towards full capacity this week.
It comes after the government announced last week more pupils in further years could return so long as schools were able to accommodate them and provided existing guidelines are followed and protective measures put in place.
This included limiting class sizes to no more than 15.
Among the first to capitalise was the church school in Swanley Village which saw 82 of its 111 pupils – from Reception to Year 6 – return on Monday.
Head teacher Ben Hulme praised the school's level of preparedness as it purchased a new marquee to facilitate the return of Year 5 pupils outside.
"What we have done since the beginning is really work with our parents and be open and honest," he said.
"They [the pupils] each have their own zones and they all come in and leave through different doors."
The school obtained portaloos and portable sinks to ensure youngsters have access to to hand-washing facilities, in line with the guidance issued by Public Health England.
Staff have also returned in full having previously been brought back on a "skeleton" basis.
And while not all pupils have come back, Mr Hulme said most of the anxieties about returning had come from parents who they communicated with to try to ease concerns.
Many schools and nurseries had been open for key workers’ children and vulnerable learners throughout the lockdown period.
Children in early years, Reception and Years 1 and 6 began returning to classrooms on June 1 following the Prime Minister's announcement with St Paul's opening its doors to 48 children during the first phase.
The government was forced to shelve plans for all pupils to have at least a month of classroom education before the summer holidays but has now published guidance to allow more to return.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I want to make sure as many pupils as possible can get back into the classroom and be reunited with their friends and teachers before the summer, to support their wellbeing and education.
"We have a range of protective measures in place in schools to reduce the risk of transmission and I would like to encourage primary schools to invite more children back if they can maintain those existing guidelines.
"I would encourage parents to take advantage of a place if they are eligible, and I’d like to thank teachers and staff for all their hard work as we take the next step in our phased and cautious approach to returning all children to school.
For St Paul's, the restart is as much about 'social learning' and 'checking in' on the mental health of pupils as it is academic, says Mr Hulme.
There are no end of year tests or assignments so teachers have been given greater flexibility.
"We just wanted to get them back and give them some time to check in," he said.
"Just to be able to get some in groups, have an individual teaching experience and understand what is going on.
"They are just really happy to be back and spend time with their classmates. Some have not got siblings and it was really nice for them."