Their faces said it all as they returned to face to face lessons after three months away.
Even though some have exam grades looming their smiles and laughter were evident as they arrived.
Exam year pupils and all primary school children in Wales could return to school today for the first time since before Christmas.
From March 15 all exam year pupils and all primary pupils aged over seven could return to school for face-to-face teaching in Wales, albeit with some extra precautions to keep Covid at bay. Those aged seven and under went back on February 22.
Over 11s must wear masks wherever they can’t socially distance, including the classroom, and over-14s will be “strongly encouraged” to take twice weekly lateral flow tests.
Pupils in years seven, eight and nine can also return for “check in” sessions before the full return of all pupils after Easter.
Year 11 learners in their final GCSE year at Afon Taf High in Troedyrhiw and St Richard Gwyn Roman Catholic High in Barry said face to face learning is better and they couldn’t wait to see friends again.
They said they don’t really mind wearing masks to class, or taking voluntary twice weekly Covid tests, so long as it helps to keep schools open and helps stop the virus getting in, or out.
Ollie Fredriksen, 16, from St Richard Gwyn RC High in, Barry, said it was “a massive boost “ being back at school.
“This year has been a bit of a mess being in and out of school. I am happy to be back and being in the whole vibe of school and seeing friends and teachers.
“Anything to be back in school, masks, tests. I want to take tests so we can help keep things safe and get back to normal.
“I had Covid at Christmas. I didn’t get it in school and just felt tired , not ill, but I am happy to take tests and wear masks to help keep things safe and be in school.”
His class mate, Ollie Chick, 15, said with a big grin that he was “ecstatic to be back” and that sitting at a screen at home all day was tiring and “demotivating”.
Ceirion Galliers, 15, said he was glad to be back with friends and teachers at Afon Taf High.
“I think I am better in a school environment and struggle to get on with learning in the house. The best thing about being back is seeing my friends. We have got to wear masks and take tests for safety and to keep schools open now.”
His classmate and deputy head girl Lilly Phillips said learning is easier in person.
“I am definitely happy to be back. Doing everything just online is weird. Face to face is much easier and I’m so glad we’re back.”
Halle Harbod, 16, said “masks in class are not ideal” but she would do anything to keep schools open.
“I would take five coronavirus tests a week if I had to. We just want to be in school.”
Students from both schools agreed it was the right thing to do to cancel exams and assessments to grade them. Grades will now be awarded by their teachers looking at past work and results.
After a year of disrupted learning some were worried they had lost time in science labs and not covered the whole course for GCSE subjects.
Both schools run to age 16 and neither has a sixth form with pupils taking A levels. That also means their teachers must help them move on to sixth form at other schools and colleges or on to jobs and training.
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Karthika Krishnan, 15, hopes to do A levels at college and then go on to medical school when she leaves St Richard Gwyn High this summer.
She thinks the Welsh Government should have decided sooner how to grade students after exams were cancelled again and that the delay caused added stress to staff and students. Initially schools were told assessments to replace exams would be held.
“I am worried about exam grades. We will be doing some tests with past papers in school and there will be teacher assessments,” said Karthika.
“The announcement from the Welsh Government about exams was extremely late. I was quite disappointed by that. It meant we had no certainty. They could have made the decision about teacher awarded grades earlier.”
Her classmate Elena Gibson, 15, pointed out that lockdown and home learning has been different for everyone, depending on home circumstances, and hopes this will be taken into account. Both her parents are teachers who went into work throughout lockdown.
Elena and her younger sister, who is in year eight, were home alone learning online and Elena often had to help her sister as well as do her own work.
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A number of those returning today already have experience of being sent in and out of school to self isolate last term and some caught Covid, though all said that was in the holidays and not in term time.
Teachers said it was important to get exam years back and avoid having to be send them to self isolate.
St Richard Gwyn headteacher David Blackwell said Year 11s need to be in school and stay learning face to face to help them get the best exam grades they can and for teachers to be able to assess where they are academically and emotionally. Wellbeing will also be a focus for all pupils returning and he hopes this will be the last time schools are closed to Covid.
“We are really excited to have Year 11 back full time as of today, year 10 are coming back part time in smaller groups and years seven, eight and nine are coming back a day each next week for wellbeing and check-in.
“It’s really important to have Year 11 back before they leave after five years with us. It gives them a chance to get evidence for the grades they deserve in their GCSEs.
“My concern is for Year 11 and keeping contact with them without disruption now so that they can get the correct GCSE grades.
“The best thing about being back today is seeing the children and interacting with them. It’s what we do the job for.”
Afon Taf High head of Year 11 Dominic Gubb was confident learners would soon get back into the swing of full time, face to face school again, and also hopes schools will not have to close wholesale again.
“They are going to be a little uncertain but give them an hour and it will all be normal,” he said as the first pupils back since before Christmas began to arrive.
“It’s been lovely seeing everyone.”