THERE was delight for students and staff at Blessed Trinity College in North Belfast on Monday morning as pupils returned to the classroom.

Following the easing of the latest Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions, the joyful return marked the first time many of the pupils have been at school since December.

Pupils arrived at the Antrim Road and Somerton Road school gates wearing their face coverings as part of the school’s health and safety measures against the virus and enjoyed a day of reconnecting.

SAFETY: Pupils will wear face masks in and around the school site

SAFETY: Pupils will wear face masks in and around the school site

Principal Jim McKeever said there was "a real buzz” during the first day back.

“We are delighted to have them all back. There were a lot of happy faces here this morning under their masks,” he said. “The buzz has been fantastic today. People have been reconnecting with their friends and face-to-face learning has resumed in the classroom. It was just a really lovely atmosphere all week. Most of the pupils have been out of school since December 10."

The head teacher said he told pupils he missed being able to wish them a Happy Christmas or a Happy Easter in person. 

“I know they missed being with their classmates at those special times too," he added. "It has been really tough for young people. I am glad they are back and hopefully they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“We had different treats and prizes for classes all day. Each pupil got a personalised welcome back card and message from their form teacher. For one day only, there were sweets, drinks and snacks too. We didn’t mind doing it for the first day.”

With the return to the classroom now in train, attention will soon turn to building up a portfolio of work for senior GCSE and A Level students with grades to be handed out in August as normal, despite the fact that there will be no exams.

“Mental health and wellbeing is the most important thing for the next few weeks and then we have the centre-determined grades to work out for GCSE and A Level students,” added Mr McKeever.

“Staff and students will be working particularly hard from now until the end of school term. Students have to provide evidence to go alongside their assessed grade to the exam board.“It will be a long and busy process but we will work with the students to see what evidence we need without there being a panic. I have told students to stay calm. They can only be assessed on what they have learnt.”

Monday also saw the official opening of the new state-of-the-art centre for post-16 students at Blessed Trinity. Complete with 300 brand new computers, the school says it will provide pupils with "a stunning facility for learning for many years to come".