The executive headteacher of two primary schools in Whitchurch says that while there have been challenges in bringing pupils back to school, they have seen an above average number of pupils return.

Across Shropshire, it is believed fewer than 50 per cent of pupils of those eligible to return attended schools on Monday, while at Tilstock CE Primary School and Lower Heath CE Primary School, both part of The Marches Academy Trust, more than 70 per cent of their pupils returned.

Executive headteacher Deb Sadler, whose schools have been open to children of keyworkers since March, says a lot of work has gone into ensuring the best possible return for staff and pupils.

“It is lovely to welcome more children back to school,” she said.

“We have worked hard to prepare for our wider opening following government guidance, but we have enhanced this to ensure that the staff were all confident with our arrangements before our pupil numbers increased.

“Our biggest challenge has been to educate pupils about social distancing, as children naturally want to be together.

“We have introduced drop-off and pick-up systems which ensure that parents can maintain distance between each other and during the school day, we have the staff and children in ‘bubbles’; small groups which do not mix with other ‘bubbles’ throughout the day.

“This has proved quite challenging in terms of space and staffing, particularly in our small schools, and it reduces the social aspect of school which was one of the key reasons for opening to more pupils.

“However, we are overcoming these challenges and have had a positive start to the half term. We look forward to seeing more pupils back in school over the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, Shropshire Council confirmed that around 60 per cent of their schools re-opened with a further 20 per cent planning to this week.

Karen Bradshaw, executive director of children’s services with Shropshire Council, said: “We have always been clear that the re-opening to wider year groups may need to be phased.

“Therefore schools may not have fully re-opened to reception, Year 1 and Year 6 but will aim to expand their offer to meet this ambition over the coming weeks.

“The safety of children and staff is our priority. All schools will have completed a risk assessment before re-opening.”Headteachers have had to work incredibly hard to undertake these and put measures in place to make sure that children are as safe as possible in school.

“These measures will include staggered starts and finishing, one-way systems, increased handwashing, social distancing where possible, limiting the number of pupils in each classroom etc.

“Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is in reception and it’s very difficult to make sure that four and five year-olds stay two metres apart – we’ve seen lots of good practice to try to solve this, like asking children to sit on mats that are safely distanced, or giving them their own set of play-doh rather than sharing.”