The leader of Cumbria Education Trust has welcomed the return of face-to-face teaching with more than 4,000 young people set to step into classrooms for the first time this year.

The first stage in easing the third national lockdown begins with children returning to their schools from March 8. Staff across the Trust’s 11 primary and secondary schools have been working tirelessly to put in operation plans for the safe return of children of all ages.

CEO Lorrayne Hughes said it was a day to which the Trust had long looked forward – and thanked not only CET staff but whole school communities for their resilience.

Mrs Hughes said: “We are a whole year into this pandemic and what has been achieved in the most trying of circumstances is quite remarkable.

“No one could have predicted the number and scale of challenges we have all had to face. My thanks go to everyone in the Trust for the role they have played in continuing to educate and care for our children.

“March 8 is a milestone day. Our staff, parents and carers and all those involved in education, will appreciate just how significant a moment this is.

“I want to say a big ‘welcome back’ to our pupils and students. Whilst technology has been used brilliantly we have missed you and we’re excited to get you physically back into school.

“There will never be a perfect time to return, and we have to continue to work very hard to minimise the risk of infection in all our schools, but we know that getting all children back and into a regular routine of learning and being with their teachers and friends is so important.”

The return of face-to-face learning has been the number one priority in re-opening after this lockdown. Mrs Hughes said it was right that young people were treated as the highest priority.

She added: “Hopefully it demonstrates to them there is nothing more important to us than their futures.

“We are absolutely determined that Covid-19 will not have a long-lasting impact on their education. It has strengthened our resolve and determination to ensure every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

“We know there will be significant challenges to overcome but, given everything we have already been through, we are now well placed to meet those challenges and deliver on our promise to do the best by the children in our care.

“The role that teachers and all our staff have played in keeping education going over this long period cannot be overstated. We have had incredible support from our communities and the partnership between us has never been stronger.”

Workington Academy Headteacher Des Bird talked to Radio Cumbria about the first day of the whole school return.