Social distancing. Face coverings. Hand sanitising.
Just six months ago, if you said these phrases to school pupils it could’ve been met with some confusion.
Now, one global pandemic and a UK-wide lockdown later, these are all things which secondary school kids are having to think about on a daily basis.
But now that pupils have been back for close to a month, how is the so-called new normal working out? And how are pupils, teachers and support staff feeling after months away?
We took to a trip to Kirkcaldy High School (KHS) to find out.
“Everyone would prefer to be here”
Sixth year pupil Cara Hayes was one of those who was delighted to be back at KHS after five months away.
And although the school day is somewhat different to what it was before lockdown, it hasn’t taken long for pupils to get into the swing of things.
The head girl said: “I am so glad to be back. I really missed the place and it’s nice to get a bit of normality back.
“Personally, I felt pretty safe coming back. I thought the school has done a really good job, everything is clearly signposted and there is hand sanitiser everywhere you go.
“It did take a wee bit getting used to the systems and it was a challenge but I would say that we are all settled in now.”
Fellow sixth year pupil and head boy, Jonathan McIntyre was also pleased to be back in full time education and explained that senior pupils felt they had a responsibility to do their bit to help keep the school safe.
He said: “I think everyone would prefer to be here and learning in person. There is a feeling that everyone is doing the right thing to ensure that we aren’t shut down again and that we can stay open.
“Even just as a senior, the younger pupils will look to you to see what we are doing with the masks and hand sanitising.
“If they see you doing it then they will often follow suit so it is on your mind that you have to perform properly.”
Pupils in secondary schools are strongly advised to wear face coverings when in the corridors and whilst it may be be difficult, they are also encouraged to social distance where possible.
But the actual teaching experience appears to be largely unaffected by these changes, meaning the classroom feels somewhat normal.
Cara explained: “It’s far more similar than I would have expected it to be and now, I really don’t notice the difference.
“The teachers are all in their ‘bubble’ which is a taped area round their desk that we can’t enter and we sit in alphabetical order.”
“Other than that, it really does not feel much different. It’s nice actually and it’s as close as possible to being what it was like before this all happened.”
“There’s nothing better than being in a classroom”
Despite school being shut to most pupils for five months, teachers have been working hard throughout the pandemic ensuring kids were engaging with the curriculum from home.
But for modern languages teacher Pauline Morris, there’s nothing better than being back in the classroom with pupils – even with the changes that are in place.
She said: “There’s nothing better than being in a classroom with the pupils in front of you because that is what we love about our jobs.”
“Obviously as teachers we lesson plan but it’s thinking about things like distributing things like material and equipment and also how you can check on how the pupils are getting with the lesson.
“Having your safe area makes it slightly more difficult to get in amongst the pupils so we have had to think of new ways to overcome that the best way to make everyone feel safe.”
After five months of home learning, there were concerns that some pupils could have been left behind. To combat this, teachers have had to ease them in gently.
Mrs Morris explained: “There is a concern that pupils being at home, there is a risk that some may have not been able to access the learning material for whatever reason.
“We have taken steps in the school for what is almost like a soft start. In our department we have done a lot of consolidation and revision to make sure the pupils feel comfortable with what we are doing before we move onto new topics.
“They have lost teaching time so we have to find ways to make up for that.”
“It feels weird not seeing them on a daily basis”
When schools were told to shut their doors back in March, it meant an abrupt end to primary schooling for those in their last year.
For pupils heading off to secondary school, the chance to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates was lost and they are now adjusting to their new school.
S1 pupil Emily McCombie said: “Our teachers were hopeful that we could get back, even if it was just for a couple of days so we could say goodbye.
“I wanted to go back to primary because I wanted to see my classmates and since I’ve gone to high school, I’ve not seen half of my classmates.
“It feels weird not seeing them on a daily basis.”
However, 11-year-old Jayden Johnston is not too worried and has already set about making new friends.
He said: “We got an induction day where we got a tour round the high school and what it would be like with the one-way system.
“I’ve met quite a few people from different schools, which has been quite easy.”
The new pupils are also confident they are safe at school and praised the older students for helping them out.
Calan McConiskie , 11, said: “What the older pupils have been telling us has been very useful. We have had our buddies for the first week and they told us where everything was.”
Fellow first year, Amara Imran added: “We feel that it is safe because we always have to wipe down the tables to sanitise them.
“It’s quite annoying sometimes because you can forget but it makes you feel safe.”
“Our kids are extremely resilient”
The challenges of the past few months have seen many people go above and beyond to help those who may be struggling.
This includes the pupil support officers at KHS who were out in community whole even whilst schools were shut.
Pupil support officer Gillian Wood explained: “The pupil support officers in this school support young people with anything outwith the classroom – mental health, wellbeing, social issues.
“As soon as the rules changed and you could meet people outdoors, the PSO team were out meeting kids in the community just to start building the relationships and identify the kids who might struggle.
“At the end of the day, the teachers are still there to teach whereas we have a bit more flexibility.”
Now that pupils have returned, the focus is on ensuring pupils are not left scarred by the experience, but Gillian is confident the kids will bounce back.
She said: “Our kids are extremely resilient and the school is approachable so the ones that were struggling, their families had been in touch and we could reach out.
“We have started a club once a week at lunchtime which is specific for supporting pupils in the return to school after lockdown.
“The kids have had some great ideas as well. We did a display about the positive things we can take from lockdown and there are plans to plant a tree as a symbol of a new beginning.”
“There is a willingness to do what it takes”
The man in charge of keeping all of the all staff and pupils safe and ensuring the school running smoothly is rector Derek Allan.
He said: “Getting back has been a joy quite frankly and the challenges have been little ones, like having reasonable ways to operate.
“There was a lot of planning involved and we had a team of people and took advice from Fife Council.
“Communication has been especially difficult because we would usually use assemblies to get the kids to work with us.
“But we have just had to do that through announcements in classes but the kids have cooperated fully and there is a willingness to do what it takes.”
Despite all the precautions that have been put in place, the rector admits that there are no guarantees this will stop the virus coming to Kirkcaldy High, but the school is ready if it does.
He explained: “I think that there are some people who think we can eliminate risk in this situation completely but all we can do mitigate and quite frankly, cross our fingers.
“It’s always at the back of your mind but the good thing is that there is a well established protocol around this.
“If we had a positive case associated with the school we would pull together what’s called a problem assessment group.
“We would then decide how best to handle that, it could be having certain kids staying at home or maybe closing a section of the school. The procedures are there.”
Mr Allan recognises that the months ahead will present challenges and the focus now is helping students the best they can.
He added: “What we are finding is that some young people have come back with a wee bit of trauma associated with being away from the school for this length of time.
“So we are now in the process of helping them heal, and from an education point of view, it’s best that the kids are back.
“My biggest concern is that gap in learning won’t be equitable and it will hit kids from disadvantaged backgrounds more.
“We are doing our best to help kids with the grade recovery if you like and we have to focus on catching up.”