Children’s campaigners have called on all members of society to work together to suppress community transmission of Covid-19 and prioritise children’s right to an education.
One million students and staff returned to classrooms after the Easter break on Monday, with first- to fourth years at second level returning for the first time since Christmas.
While there had been concerns in some quarters that an upward creep in Covid-19 cases last month might jeopardise the reopening of school, the National Public Health Emergency Team has said transmission rates and outbreaks in schools remain low.
It has urged that the full reopening of school should not be an excuse for parents to return to the workplace if they are able to work remotely.
The Children’s Futures campaign, an alliance of leading children and young people’s organisations, welcomed the full reopening of school and early years centres on Monday.
“Marking the final phase in the reopening of schools, it is a great relief to see children and young people given the opportunity to resume some kind of normalcy,” it said in a statement.
“We are delighted for them, as we know all students of all ages much prefer in-school learning to online lessons, as do school staff themselves. It is also vital for their development, particularly for vulnerable and marginalised children and young people.”
The campaign – which includes AsIAm, Barnardos, Children's Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, and National Parents Council Primary – said a key focus should now be on children and young people's wellbeing as well as supporting students to catch up on the learning they have lost over the last 12 month.
The alliance has called for the a post-coronavirus roadmap for recovery for children and young people.
Meanwhile, the first full day of in-school teaching appeared to go smoothly, according to principals and students.
"The full reopening seems to have gone really well," says Clive Byrne, head of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.
“While there have been massive improvements in online learning this year, there’s no doubt that face-to-face learning is where everyone wants to be at.”
He said, however, that advice for students or staff should be strengthened so they stay away from school in the event that a family member is being tested for Covid-19.
“Even if the family member does not yet have a result, we really shouldn’t be taking any unnecessary chances that could lead to transmission of the virus in schools,” he said.
Doireann Broderick (17) of Presentation College Carlow, is one of the many secondary students delighted to see the back of remote learning – for now, at least.
“Learning online has been really tough. Sitting in front of a screen all day long can be really draining. As a teenager it’s super easy to get distracted by the internet and by your phone, especially since there is no one there to reprimand you if you are not concentrating.”
While the return to school feels daunting due to the big change in routine, she says she has a new-found appreciation for the importance of social interaction since it was taken away.
“I didn’t want to see another screen until I had to but unfortunately it’s the only way we had to keep in touch. We made it work with Zoom birthdays and regular FaceTimes because we needed some sense of normality,” she says.
“The pandemic and certainly the closing of schools has cut many teenagers off from some of their friends, knocking their confidence and creating a more anxious cohort of young people, myself included. Every young person I know has been affected in some manner and the mental effects will be seen for years ahead.”