Published: 12:08, 01 June 2020
| Updated: 17:53, 01 June 2020
Thousands of pupils across Kent are back in their classrooms this morning - and they are coming to terms with a very different learning environment.
Those returning from today will face significant changes to their surroundings to comply with strict government guidelines.
Teachers in Kent are worried about children coming back to schools
A number of headteachers have revealed how they will reopen their schools.
Some have reopened to youngsters in early years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 today.
Teachers have been implementing a number of changes instructed by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including staggered lunchtimes and limiting class sizes.
Pupils will return to “bubbles” where they will stay in the same room with the same classmates and teachers to reduce risk and mixing.
Social distancing measures along with increased cleaning and hygiene practices will be enforced.
Primary schools across Herne Bay have been implementing a number of changes instructed by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including staggered lunchtimes and limiting class sizes.
But the head teacher says social distancing will have to be abandoned before his school can welcome back all of its pupils at the start of the next academic year.
As Herne Junior School prepares to welcome back less than half of its Year 6 cohort, head teacher Malcolm Saunders says he does not have enough rooms to enforce the two-metre rule when the rest of his children return.
Staff will have access to gloves, masks and goggles, and classrooms will be cleaned regularly - with deep cleans taking place at the end of each week.
In Sittingbourne, Lansdowne Primary School, part of The Stour Academy Trust, was among those to reopen and nine-year-old Oscar Deacon said he couldn't wait.
The Year 4 pupil said: "I was excited to come back and I enjoyed it. It was the same thing but with different people in class from different years."
His dad, John, picked him up after school and said the new routine had worked better than before.
The 31-year-old said: "Pick-up was very simple. They just bring them out and that's it, much better than normal.
"It's normally absolutely rammed. About 80-90 parents are normally congregating around but the school's staggered the times, and there's not as many children attending, it was perfect."
"The school has been really good, they've been sending work out every day to do," he added. "I had no concerns at all about sending him back. When he was off, he said to me 'you always tell me school's the best time of your life, I believe you now'."
A spokesman for The Stour Academy Trust said all eight of its primary schools, including Richmond Academy in Sheerness and Thistle Hill Academy in Minster, reopened today to the year groups specified by the government.
He added: "We have worked on a detailed plan to provide the most effective and safest means for children and staff to return to school.
"Our plan has been drawn up in close consultation with all head teachers across the trust, through the use of professional, independent risk assessments and incorporating the comprehensive guidance provided by the DfE.
"In addition, we have also put in place measures of our own, for example scanning all visitors, staff and pupils on entering the premises through the use of thermal infra-red thermometers."
Teachers across the trust's schools made almost 800 online home learning lessons for youngsters to access during school closures. The videos have now been viewed more than 70,000 times.
Over on Sheppey, scores of children were "desperate and ready" to return to school and nursery.
Michelle Baker said: "My little Ruby-Lee went back to nursery today. Every day in lockdown, she has asked me to take her. I'm a mum-of-six, so this lockdown has been very hard to entertain and keep them all busy.
"If we lived in London, she would not have gone back and if the death rates go up a lot, then I would pull her back out
Keeley Cherry said her son Harrison, four, returned to Queenborough Nursery today. "He said he had the best day ever," she said.
Meanwhile, Frankie-Mae Morrow was "extremely excited" to be back in her usual school and wearing her uniform.
The Eastchurch Primary School pupil had been attending school throughout the lockdown, but at another site, because both of her parents are key workers.
Her mum, Bernie, is a nurse at Medway hospital, and her dad, Paul, is a fireman on Sheppey.
On one occasion, Frankie-Mae was the only child at school.
Mum Bernie, said: "She was extremely excited to be in her normal school and, even, wear her uniform. She understands the changes made and why they are in place."
She said: "It will be very much a return to chalk and talk traditional teaching. It's going to be a massive culture shock."
Communal pots of pens and pencils are outlawed. Pupils must take their own.
To comply with strict government safety guidelines, headteachers are stripping out carpets, soft furnishings and toys.
But the most difficult test they are facing is stripping back the classrooms and removing all the notices and pictures from the walls.
Timothy Pye, assistant head at Minster Primary School in Brecon Chase, admitted: "We are looking forward to seeing the children again but it has been really hard taking down everything which inspires them.
"We will do the best we can. But as a father, I am somewhat hesitant. And it must be scary for some families."
Children will have staggered start and finish times so there will be reduced crowding at the school gates. Changes are also being made to entry and exits in the school so there will be no mixing in corridors.
A Whitstable headteacher says she understands it will be “daunting” for pupils and parents.
Whitstable Junior School head Annie Knoupe told parents teachers are preparing classrooms and learning new systems put in place.
The school day will finish early every Friday at 1pm to enable “thorough cleaning” to take place - but key worker children can stay until 3pm.
Meanwhile, at secondary schools, Department for Education guidance states that Years 10 and 12 pupils will be the first to return for “face-to-face contact”.
It says this will not represent “a return to full timetables or pupils back in school or college full time, rather some support to supplement pupils’ remote education”.
This week, the opening date for secondaries was pushed back by the Prime Minister to June 15.
Herne Bay High principal Jon Boyes told KentOnline: “The whole school site is fully risk assessed and we’ll meet all the government guidelines.
“All of our Year 10 students will come in bubble groups at different points of the week beginning Monday, June 15.
“In groups of 14 at the most, they’ll have input for English, maths and science, to help their remote learning.
“The following week, we’ll do the same with Year 12 and then see what we do after that.”
KentOnline has seen inside one primary school today to see what it will be like for pupils.
The playing field has been divided up using hazard tape and there are now three separate entrances marked with colourful footprints, as it welcomes pupils back.
Teachers at St Katherine's Primary School in Snodland have been working hard to make sure pupils, parents and staff feel safe about classrooms reopening.
The head of the Oasis Academy, on the Isle of Sheppey, the Rev Steve Chalke, has also spoken out today about youngsters social distancing.
He said it is "not alienating" and is "actually fun" for kids returning to school.
He also said when comparing classrooms to crowds in local parks, children are sticking to the rules "a lot better than some adults."