The Department of Education was delighted to welcome its staff and pupils back into its schools and educational settings last week.
After 9 weeks since the end of term in December, and 5 weeks of Contingency Learning, it was evident that staff and children were, on the whole, keen to get back into more of a normal routine and enjoy the face-to-face interaction with each other that we have, perhaps, taken more for granted in the past. Empty schools are sad and even eerie places. The joy and energy that the pupils have brought back into school has been an uplifting experience for all of our school communities.
School buildings were alive with activity, with children greeting each other happily, keen to rekindle their social relationships with smiles and anecdotes. The response of the children and their teachers during this first week back has served as a striking reminder that schools are not just about academic pursuits. The social and emotional experiences of school are a vital part of school life and staff ensure that priority is given to the wellbeing of children as well as their development into well rounded individuals. Head Teachers commented on how proud they were of their school staff, whose hard work throughout lockdown and thorough preparatory work for the reopening of our schools has enabled the transition to be as smooth as possible for our community’s children. Head Teacher at St Bernard’s Upper Primary School explained how “The transition from home-learning to learning in the classroom has gone really smoothly. This is a true reflection of the good work the teachers have done over lockdown – the quality of activities, the level of differentiation, the interaction with pupils, the communication with parents and family members and the support that the school has given our most vulnerable pupils.”
The Department of Education recognises that the recent lockdown situation has been very challenging for all families, especially those with young children. We appreciate the efforts households have made to support learners through their contingency learning, and applaud parents for balancing this with their other home and work commitments. Working from home is not without its challenges, and we know everyone in the community has done their best to make the most of this challenging situation.
The Department of Education is cognisant of the fact that the recent lockdown has been even more challenging for families of children with disabilities and is especially pleased to open the doors of St Martin’s School and Early Birds Nursery to pupils once more. The Head Teacher of St Martin’s School explained how “It was really wonderful to see the children back at school after such a long period away. Although there had been an element of apprehension, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly both staff and pupils soon settled into their daily routine”.
Returning to school signified for pupils, school staff and parents, the prospect of finally being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The smiles on everyone’s faces on our first day back was as much the knowledge that we are finally on our way out of this awful pandemic as it was about seeing our friends and teaching and learning together.
The Department of Education would like to thank all the children and young people in our community for engaging with their teachers on their school platforms, and for continuing to face the continuing disruptions to their learning with admirable resilience and enthusiasm. They truly are examples to us all.
At the College, Principal Michelle Soiza explained how teachers have been rewarded by their students with appreciative notes, grateful posts and positive feedback, through which College students have expressed their gratitude for their quality contingency learning experience and the continuous support they have received during lockdown.
Head Teacher of St Anne’s Upper Primary School summarised the experience of Day 1: “No hugs, no high-fives and not even a pat on the back, but it didn’t matter. It was time to get back to where we (staff) and all those smiling faces belong: the classroom.”
The Department of Education and its schools feel very confident that our schools are safe learning environments in which our pupils can continue to thrive and enjoy learning. Following Public Health advice and bespoke Public Health visits to every educational setting, schools have adopted and implemented robust mitigation measures. These measures enable schools to maintain high levels of cleanliness and reduce the possible spread of COVID-19, whilst also ensuring that they provide a fun and meaningful learning experience for all our pupils. We have been delighted by the enthusiastic response of our pupils when opening our school gates after this tough lockdown. The smiles on their faces were testament to the fact that schools have worked hard to ensure that COVID-19 will not beat us in providing high quality learning; albeit at home via our home learning contingency platform or in schools…education will prevail!