As millions of pupils in England return to school after lockdown, the BBC went to two primary schools in Luton, Whitefield Primary Academy and Southfield Primary School, to find out how parents and children felt.
‘I didn’t want to send them back’
“It’s scary but we don’t have a choice really,” says Iram Kanwal. “You have to pay your fine or bring them to school. I would’ve been happy not sending them back right now because it’s too soon, but [I’m] hoping for the best I guess.”
Iram says she worries about a second coronavirus peak, but admits having her children, aged 3 and 5, at home for so long was a bit of a “juggling act”.
Now her kids are returning to school and nursery, she says she’s been telling them to not get too close to other children and to keep washing their hands.
But she says her daughter, Samavia, is still “too small” to really understand about the virus: “She doesn’t even know what coronavirus is at the moment”.
‘He lost motivation’
“I’m not that nervous about it because I’m sure my teachers know what they’re doing,” says eight-year-old Aarizuddin Halim, who is starting Year 4.
He says he’s excited to meet his friends again, but his mother, Sabia, says he was a little nervous in the car on his way to school. “I don’t know what work I’m going to be doing. It might be hard, it might be easy, but I’m going to have to just learn it,” he explains.
Sabia says she’s relieved home-schooling is over. “At the beginning of lockdown it was fine, home-schooling was OK, but as time went on he lost his motivation. I am just so glad he is going back to school.”
‘Home-schooling was boring’
“Boring”, says Viorica Belenco, when asked how home-schooling her daughter has been.
“It has been very hard,” the carer adds. “I am a key worker, so she has been at school a while in the summer so we haven’t been at home for too long. At home you don’t have so many chances to do what they do in school.”
Daniela, who is starting in Year 3, gives a shy shrug when asked what she is looking forward to most, but says she is pleased to be back.
“I am a bit nervous,” Viorica adds, “but I know that they will take care about sanitising and the hands and everything, so I can’t say I am am really too nervous. I am just excited that she is happy.”
‘My kids are ready’
“I’m happy to be back and they are happy to be back,” says teaching assistant Gemma Twining as she starts back at work. Her own children are aged 3 and 8 – and also returned to nursery and school respectively.
“They have had such a long time off, such a long time away from their friends that they’re ready.” She says it has been “challenging” trying to teach the two different ages at home.
They both had five weeks back at school before the summer holidays. “That was great for them because they got that social interaction, but obviously socially-distanced,” she says.
“Our school has put a lot in place to keep everybody safeguarded so I feel confident with them going back.”
‘Teachers are fantastic’
“For him, it’s his first day at big school, for me it’s because of the current pandemic and what’s been going on,” says Michelle Hack as she explains why both her and her youngest son were feeling nervous.
One of her boys was starting Reception, while her eldest was returning to school.
She says she is a bit “apprehensive” about them going to school, but adds: “They need it, they need the normality back.”
Michelle also says she had a new-found respect for teachers after home-schooling. “They’re fantastic, I’ve only had to juggle two, whereas the teachers juggle 25 to 30. They are fantastic human beings.”
‘Sense of normality’
Seven-year-old Alyssa Baptiste says she is looking forward to getting stuck in to maths and English classes in Year 3 – as well as seeing her friends. But her dad is feeling a “bit apprehensive”.
“At the same time,” Mickel Baptiste adds, “it’s good to get back to some sense of normality for her. Obviously she has had a big break over the summer and when schools closed, so getting back into education for her I think will be really good and in that sense I am happy that it’s happening.
“But I’m just a bit concerned about what you hear in the news about Covid and spikes.”
‘Keeping them at home is risky’
“Keeping them at home for so long is more risky than keeping them away from the school,” says Saima Aurangzeb, as her son and daughter return to the classroom.
“In school they can learn better,” she says. “We don’t have a big social circle at home so it’s better for them to be at school.”
Anaya, aged 5, says she is looking forward to learning and seeing her friends as she begins Year 1.
‘The school is prepared’
Alicja Golinczak was feeling the usual first day nerves. She wondered what her new teacher was going to be like. But her mum, Anna, says she isn’t worried about her or brother Adam.
“I feel safe. We didn’t know anybody who fell sick and I think the school is well prepared,” she says.
All photographs by Phil Coomes and Amy Heycock. Interviews by Rachael McMenemy and Phil Shepka.