The youngest children in Scotland have returned to the classroom as schools reopen to more pupils.
Children between the ages of four and eight in primaries one to three are due back in Scottish schools from Monday, along with some senior secondary pupils who need to do practical work for qualifications.
All children under school age in early learning and childcare are also returning.
Senior secondary pupils will need to stick to two-metre social distancing within schools and on school buses, while Covid-19 testing will be made available to them and teachers.
At Inverkip Primary School in Inverclyde children and parents followed a one-way system as they entered the building, sanitising their hands before heading back to their classrooms for the first time since December.
Eilidh Hyett, seven, a primary three pupil, said she had missed seeing her friends and teachers.
She added: “When we come into school there’s a hand sanitiser box and we hand sanitise our hands before we go into the class.
“We always stay two metres apart from each other and we don’t really touch each other and we don’t touch each other’s things.”
Sarah Barr dropped off her children Nairn, six, and Ruiari, four, at the school.
She said she was confident it was safe for pupils to return.
“The school has been great at explaining all the safety measures,” she said.
“Seeing how happy they are to be back in school it makes a big difference for their mental wellbeing.
“At that infant age a lot of the learning they do is about their social skills and the benefit of the structure of school and learning as a group of children so they have definitely missed being in the school environment.”
She added that she had struggled to juggle schooling her children at home with her work.
“It’s just been a juggle between myself and my husband and lots of catching up in the evenings and I took quite a bit of annual leave to make things easier,” she said.
Una Nicolson, headteacher of Inverkip Primary, said she was delighted to have the children back with “beaming smiles”.
She said the main challenges going forward would be ensuring the school is safe and looking after the children’s mental health.
Staff have been offered the option of getting a Covid-19 test twice a week and returning pupils will continue to follow coronavirus measures put in place.
“Staff ensure that they keep two metre distancing from each other and the children where possible,” she said, adding that the adults wear masks as do some pupils if they wish.
She added: “You can see from the smiling faces today the overwhelming feeling is happiness and delight to be back in school.
“We are aware that underneath those smiles today there may be feelings of anxiety and we will continue to ensure that the health and wellbeing of our children is at the heart of our decision making”.
Inverkip Primary has instructed parents on when to drop children off at the school gates in order to ensure social distancing is maintained.
Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney said it is “critical” that parents follow mask-wearing and physical distancing rules at the gates.
All good wishes to children and young people in Early Learning, P1-3 and the senior phase who return to face to face learning in Scotland’s schools today. The preparations and commitment of all staff is deeply valued in making this happen. Guidance in place to keep all safe
— John Swinney (@JohnSwinney) February 22, 2021
He told Good Morning Scotland on Monday the biggest threat to education would be an increase in the spread of the virus across the country, as he urged Scots to follow public health advice.
“The biggest threat to the opening of schools is not outbreaks in schools, it is community transmission of the virus,” he said.
When asked if parents at school gates contributed to prevalence of the virus before this lockdown, Mr Swinney said: “The whole community was driving the virus.
“I don’t particularly want to single out particular groupings – the whole society was interacting too much, that’s why we had to go into lockdown.”
Mr Swinney said ministers would be monitoring data carefully when the initial cohort of pupils returns before deciding on whether others could go back to class.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told BBC Good Morning Scotland on Monday: “I think we should keep perspective.
“There will likely be cases emerging in schools over in the next few weeks but the vast majority of schools should be fine and that’s what we have to keep perspective on.”