The 2021 school year was dominated – as the one before it – by pandemic disruption.
It started with children back to learning at home and ended with worries of a return to remote learning – whether through closures or isolation – as Covid-19 case numbers soared again.
Exams were cancelled for a second time, but amid the gloom there was also plenty to celebrate.
Here we look back at five of the highs and lows of the 2021 school year.
1. Back to school at home
For most families the 2021 school year began with a return to the early days of the pandemic – at home in front of a screen.
What we were initially told would be a week at least of remote learning stretched into February for the youngest children and it was April before older pupils were back full-time.
Although no one wanted children out of school again there were mixed feelings about the return to remote learning – some parents were firmly opposed to the loss of yet more in-class time but others accepted the need to protect children and the wider public from the rapidly-spreading virus.
So we steeled ourselves to juggle work and other commitments while helping or chasing offspring to do lessons at dining tables, in bedrooms and even on sofas.
Although never a replacement for in-school learning, there was, however, general consensus – backed up by education inspectors – that this time round the experience was better; thousands of laptops had been issued to children who needed them, teachers had upskilled in online teaching and pupils were better prepared.
Exams Assessments and TikTok cheating
Pupils in S4 to S6 studying for National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers instead sat in-class assessments, intended to be a fairer system for those who had missed school due to Covid illness or isolating.
But many of the assessments were conducted under exam conditions, and the schedule was demanding. They were branded exams in all but name.
And because schools were conducting them according to their own timetables but using papers prepared by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, some youngsters shared questions on social media apps, including TikTok and Discord, for those yet to sit them.
3. A new St Andrews secondary school – at last
The new Madras College welcomed pupils for the first time in August, 15 years after Fife Council committed to building a new school for St Andrews and the Tay Bridgehead.
Previously pupils were split between two campuses, including the school’s historic South Street building, but are now united at their £55 million state-of-the-art building at Bell Brae, St Andrews.
A series of setbacks meant the town had to wait longer than anticipated, so it was certainly the ‘momentous day’ it was described as when almost 1,300 children arrived for their first day in August with new head teacher Ken Currie.
4. New P1 pupils
Wee smiling faces, tiny uniforms and shiny new schoolbags – seeing the new P1 pupils on their first day of school is a highlight of every school year.
Having missed a significant part of their time at nursery due to the pandemic would have made the big step even bigger, but teachers across the country were ready with open arms to ease their young charges into school life.
To celebrate the special moment, we met triplets Lewis, Kyle and Callum Johnston as they prepared to join Kinghorn Primary School and we shared photographs proud parents sent us of their children’s first day.
5. School dinners
School dinners came under the microscope – and what we saw didn’t look appetising.
When we published five photographs of school dinners taken at one Dundee school and asked a nutritionist to analyse them and the meals’ ingredients, our story was the most read of the year for our schools and family team.
It may not look like much like it, but the picture (above on the right) shows pizza with mashed potato.
Our story divided opinion, with many appalled at the dishes served to children and others defending the meals provided by Tayside Contracts.
According to our nutritionist the meals had “room for improvement”, but Tayside Contracts insisted they met government requirements.
On a positive note, more children became eligible for free school lunches this year, when P4s joined P1 to P3 pupils in being entitled to them. P5 pupils will be offered free school lunches from January and P6 and P7 pupils from August 2022.