NURSERY, reception, Year One and Year Six students were welcomed back to school across the country yesterday – but parents and schools in the North-East have responded differently.

Government advice for schools to reopen to certain year groups has been received differently across the North-East, with Durham County Council encouraging schools in the county to wait an additional two weeks as the regional ‘R’ rate rises.

Richard Crane, the council’s head of education and skills, said: “We have advised all schools that June 15, the date that the government has put forward for secondary pupils to return, is a more realistic date to begin a phased reopening.

“This follows data which shows the North-East has the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country and the publication of advice from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

“We understand that all County Durham primaries are following our advice, though it ultimately remains a decision for schools to open when they feel it is safe to do so.

“Many schools have remained open throughout the pandemic for children of key workers and continue to do so. We continue to support schools in that and are incredibly grateful for the commitment shown by teachers and education staff who have enabled schools to remain open.”

Parents, children and staff gave a big thumbs up to the first day back at Mill Hill Primary School in Northallerton.

Around 50 per cent of Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils returned. They were one of 110 primary schools across North Yorkshire which reopened their doors.

Mother of five-year-old Mitchell Gibson, Emma Johnson, who was worried but says the school had been very good, said: “They have been excellent, I rang and asked what the system would be and they were really reassuring, the children were in bubbles and distancing.

"Some people aren’t agreeing with it but I thought children are going to have to learn how to deal with it and it seems to be working well.”

Mitchell’s verdict was: “It was great to see my friends.”

Anya Turton had been keen to get nine-year-old daughter Freya back to school for assessments in the schools hub.

She said: “It has been a nightmare for Freya because her routine has gone out of the window at home. The school have been fantastic, with the support from them and the precautions put in place I know she is safe.”

Another mother whose six and nine-year-old had both returned said: “It has gone brilliantly, the organisation has been seamless, the school is excellent. The instructions for coming back were well communicated and the children have felt safe.”

Her six year old added: “We can’t touch each other, but it has been good we are still having a good time.”

Head teacher Rebecca Bainbridge said: “The first day has gone really well. I think most people are glad to get back into a routine.

"We have had about 50 per cent of the children who could come back. For parents it is a big thing sending your children back but we are working hard to support both parents and children.”

Meanwhile, Chaloner Primary School, in Guisborough, reopened its doors for pupils but decided to keep its nursery closed due to concerns around social distancing enforcement.

Head teacher Mary Parker, who explained that over two-thirds of parents think it's too soon to send children back to school, said: “It’s gone really well today but that’s because the numbers are quite low and it’s very early to say.

“I do believe schools do need to open for children when it is safe to do so and so a slow and staggered approach seems the more sensible. It’s a really difficult one.

“We are happy to welcome children back into school, in their uniforms, smiling and learning, but the safety issue is worrying, especially with the R rate locally.

“I have an ambitious plan to get all kids in all year groups back into school for at least one day before the summer holidays. I created a three phased plan to ensure this before the government released their planning guide outlining what they wanted, as this was several days after the announcement to reopen schools.

“The question is now, how do we keep supporting children that are at home? If I have all of the teachers in school for three year groups, there wouldn’t be any to support home learning. We have incorporated home learning support as part of our plan. We’ll be continuing online assemblies and the children in school will even lead some of them for their peers. Trying to make those links between home and school.

“Children are loving being back at school and enjoy learning. They’re finding it quite fun to enforce the distancing rules and teachers have handled it in such a nurturing way that children don’t feel so displaced with the new classroom layouts and rules."