As the bell rang on Friday, March 20, last year children poured out of schools and waved goodbye to friends and teachers, not knowing when they would return.
Just two days earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced it was “now inevitable” that schools and nurseries would close at the end of that week.
The number of people contracting coronavirus in Scotland was growing and by that point six people had died and there were 322 confirmed cases. Staff shortages were being felt in schools.
Pubs, restaurants, shops, offices and the like remained open, so for many people schools closing their doors was the first bite of reality that life was about to change. Dramatically.
The sunshine that day masked the shadow being cast by Covid-19.
Teachers hurriedly prepared to teach from home while anxious parents gathered at the school gates and pupils nervous but excited with ‘holiday’ fever pondered whether they would be back before the summer holidays, oblivious to what lay ahead.
And what lay ahead was unprecedented – home schooling until the summer holidays, children in lockdown unable to see their friends for weeks on end and exams cancelled.
School leavers missed out on end-of-term celebrations and those transitioning to primary or secondary school had to prepare for the big step with virtual tours.
On the anniversary of schools closing their doors for the first lockdown, we look back at that historic last day and share the memories of pupils and a teacher.
Jack Bell, 18, former Perth Grammar School pupil and MSYP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
“It was a strange feeling. At the start of that week, that was when we thought we might actually have to close because of the virus.
“We had a number of assignments pulled forward then on the Wednesday when we got the announcement a lot of people were quite panicked.
“We all thought we are going get our summer, this is just going to be a brief thing, so I was quite looking forward to it.
We spent the whole afternoon going down the slip and slide! I was being cautious about social distancing up until then, but on that day I thought this could be the last chance I get, I’m going to throw all caution to the wind.”
“We made sure on the last day, just in case we didn’t get a prom and such things, which we didn’t, to spend as much time together as a year group as possible; go off the timetable, see the teachers you want to see and talk to the people you want to talk to.
“In the afternoon a few of the boys in our year brought in a tarp and some washing liquid and there was a hill right outside the school. We spent the whole afternoon going down the slip and slide!
“I was being cautious about social distancing up until then, but on that day I thought this could be the last chance I get, I’m going to throw all caution to the wind. It was a really good day. The clothes I was wearing are still dirty, there’s no way they are going to get washed!”
Thomas Jordan, 13, S3 pupil at Brechin High School
“The Friday we went off I remember everything being really surreal almost. This was it, we are going off and that, really, was when I think coronavirus hit everyone, the realisation of how problematic it would be.
“We all thought it would be a very short time we were off, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks even.
“I don’t think there was very much learning done that day. It was like the very last day before the holidays.”
“Thinking we would be going back soon, I don’t think anybody was worried about a big goodbye, most people were saying ‘goodbye, we’ll see you in a few weeks’ not expecting lockdown to go on for so long.
“I don’t think there was very much learning done that day. It was like the very last day before the holidays.
“I remember the teachers hurrying around trying to get everything ready for online learning and to give us the best experience they could. And it was a really good experience.”
Matthew Duncan and Melissa Phillips, St Paul’s RC Academy, Dundee, head boy and girl
“The day we closed back in March 2020 set the school into a silent chaos. Staff attempted to remain calm and maintain order while no one knew what would happen.
“Exams had been cancelled by this point already and teachers made last-ditch efforts to retrieve all evidence possible to build a case for our grades.
“Pupils were divided, some relished in thoughts of a long holiday and others worried for the outcomes in August.
“Everyone busied themselves during the early days off: from home workouts to last minute work submissions in desperate attempts to bump up grades. Some feared for what would later be ‘the algorithm’, whispers of grades being altered based on postal codes.
Pupils were divided, some relished in thoughts of a long holiday and others worried for the outcomes in August.”
“Once the deadline hit for target grade submissions, schoolwork came to a halt for what would have been the summer holidays – any other year.
“Now we gradually return to what we’d refer to as ‘reality’, albeit one with a lot more challenges, we have a lot more hope.
“The relief and excitement of getting back into the classroom is overwhelming and for a lot of pupils although strange and perhaps difficult, retuning is something we have been optimistic about.
“The interaction between teachers and pupils has been missed and although regular Teams calls did break this social ban, it just wasn’t the same.
“Hopefully for us seniors, we can make the most of our remaining time at school and for the younger pupils just beginning, I’m sure the skills they have developed through this time will allow them to continue on with very different but great experiences in high school.”
Natalie McDonald, P1 teacher at Fair Isle Primary School, Kirkcaldy
“As I waved the children goodbye on their last day at school I remember feeling positive that it would only be for a few weeks and that things would return to normal after our Easter break.
“Even though we only had a short time to prepare for remote learning our school worked together as a team to ensure we were ready to begin this unknown journey.
“Packs of work were prepared for the children and Microsoft Teams was set up as a way to communicate with our families.
Our final day was spent like any other day in our primary one class with the children learning, exploring and having fun in their classroom. We were all completely unaware of what the coming months would look like.”
“I began to worry that not all the families may have the appropriate access to technology and I did not want any of the children to be disadvantaged in any way.
“I remember also feeling slightly anxious at the thought of using a digital platform to share learning with the children.
“However, knowing that my colleagues would be on hand to offer support helped make this difficult journey seem achievable.
“Our final day was spent like any other day in our primary one class with the children learning, exploring and having fun in their classroom.
“We were all completely unaware of what the coming months would look like.”