NEVER has the term ‘back to school’ been more significant.

Some pupils across the district are preparing to step back into the classroom on Monday, after more than two months of home schooling.

The return of youngsters in nursery, Year 1 and Year 6 is part one of a phased return to full time education for all children.

But is it safe for them to do so? Many parents fear not, and Hexham mum Karen Varty told the Courant last week that her 10-year-old son Christopher was scared to rejoin his classmates at St Joseph’s Middle School in Hexham.

Ministers have been listening to scientific advice, however, and government guidance published on May 20 stated: “There is high scientific confidence that children of all ages have less severe symptoms than adults if they contract coronavirus and there is moderately high scientific confidence that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus

“Limiting the numbers of children going back initially then gradually increasing numbers, guided by scientific advice, reduces risk of increasing the rate of transmission.

“Schools and can make changes to how they are organised and put measures in place to reduce risks.”

The Government has also provided advice to schools about limiting contact between different groups of children, and other protective measures aimed at minimising the risk of infection.

But how does this work on a practical level? And what challenges do schools face to accommodate children safely?

One local parent governor, who did not wish to be named, said: “We have to carry out essential risk assessments and have an adequate framework in place to protect children and staff.

“For our school, a big caveat for opening on June 1 is making sure there has been enough progress with the track and trace initiative.”

The parent governor said headteachers had been very proactive, and had put together workable systems within schools, but admitted that social distancing would prove extremely difficult for children in Year 1 and below.

She added: “Schools have to minimise risks through hygiene, with regular hand washing and regular cleaning of surfaces.

“There will also be an onus on parents to check their children for symptoms, and keep them at home if they show signs of symptoms, such as a slight increase in temperature.”

It must be remembered that schools have been operating throughout the pandemic, welcoming the children of key workers on a daily basis since March.

The parent governor added: “Teachers have done incredibly well to manage the restrictions.

“We have been open for children of key workers and there have been no issues with those children.”

With classes of up to 15 permitted for the first phase of schooling, there are likely to be logistical challenges for some schools.

The parent governor said that the current plan, for pupils in nursery, Year 1 and Year 6 to return, was not best suited to the three tier system which operates within parts of the district.

But she backed local teachers to meet the challenges head on, and praised their hard work throughout the pandemic.

“All of our great teachers have been working in a very difficult environment, helping children learn at home while also spending time in the classroom,” she said.