As schools begin to reopen nationwide, in Greenwich tributes are being paid to the amazing staff who have "provided a vital lifeline" to around 1,000 children during the coronavirus pandemic by keeping schools open.

Whilst the majority of schools closed at the start of the outbreak, a number remained open throughout lockdown to support the children of critical workers, and those who are vulnerable or have special needs.

It is estimated that 1,000 children received this lifeline, and Greenwich Council wants to thank the cleaners, caterers, facilities managers, carers, teaching assistants, teachers and headteachers who've made it possible.

As children returned to school at around 40 other schools in the borough last week, councillors visited Willow Dene, one school which has gone above and beyond for its students during the pandemic.

Willow Dene is Greenwich's special school, and has welcomed around 60 pupils, all with complex needs, throughout lockdown.

The children have continued to benefit from 'expert care and education', and the school's playground has opened its playground during weekends, enabling 68 family play sessions to be delivered to around 40 families.

The school has also endeavoured to care for the pupils having to shield at home for medical reasons by calling them regularly.

Staff at Willow Dene have also been ensuring that pupils at home get any equipment, learning resources, food and support they need during this tough time, all delivered with support from Charlton Athletic Community Trust.

Rachel Harrison, Headteacher of Willow Dene School, said: “We are extremely proud of our school, our whole staff team, our children and what we have been able to achieve for our community in such extraordinary circumstances.”

Cllr Matthew Morrow, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Greenwich Council, said keeping schools open during this crisis has provided a vital lifeline to a thousand young people across the borough.

"I want to thank all the amazing people who have made this possible.

"Cleaners, caterers, facilities managers, carers, teaching assistants, teachers and headteachers have worked together in difficult circumstances to provide this valuable service to children in our borough.”

Greenwich has now reached a phased return to school for many children attending primary schools and nurseries, with children and staff's safety being paramount.

Over 40 schools in the borough welcomed back students from nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 at the end of last week.

Strong measures have been taken to ensure everyone is safe, though every plan is personalised to the individual school, and year groups are being staggered so they don't all attend at the same time.