With lockdown, a remote-studying revolution and the introduction of calculated grades, this has been a momentous year in schools. Yet the hardest part may be just about to begin.
Necessity will be the mother of invention for principals and teachers as they prepare for the great return of children to school at the end of this month. They are desperate for staff and desperate for space. Even the stage that is normally used for the school play may be transformed into a socially distanced classroom.
Children face a new world of 'bubbles', 'pods' and live streaming, where teachers will have to find new ways of keeping the soul of a school alive and maintain a strong connection with their pupils.
The Government's roadmap for reopening schools, published this week, advises that second-level pupils maintain a distance of at least one metre, and two where feasible. While they previously moved from classroom to classroom, it is now advised that they be based in one place as much as possible. The idea is to minimise interaction between students from different classes.
At primary and secondary level, children who travel by school bus must have a place reserved and where possible sit with a sibling or a child from their class.
While Taoiseach Micheál Martin, a former teacher and former Minister for Education, sees it as his number one priority to get children back into the classroom, schools will have learned from the remote-learning experience during lockdown.
Elements of this are likely to be part of the new regime, at least in the short term. If a class is too big, it may be divided up, according to the plans. One group will watch the teacher 'live' presenting the class, while a second will follow the lesson from a satellite room on screen.
Students could be rotated between the live class and the satellite class. To accommodate these students, schools are likely to use PE halls, assembly halls, or libraries - in short, any space they can find. But the satellite classes will also have to be supervised.
Principal John Hayes is hoping to run Kildare Town Community School as if it were five almost separate satellite schools. He is considering whether to divide up the PE hall into classrooms for first-year students, and investigating whether he can have temporary classrooms placed on the premises.
He had already shown an inclination to innovate over the past few months. In late June, he helped to organise a drive-in graduation ceremony for sixth-year pupils. There was no handshaking or hugging as pupils went up to a podium to collect a candle and scroll past cardboard cutout figures of their teachers.
"It was like a Covid-compliant mini-Electric Picnic," says Hayes, who has been measuring out classrooms in his school and trying to work out the best way of meeting social-distancing requirements.
While many parents cannot wait for their children to go back to school, particularly if they are struggling to work at home, others are anxious.
A survey published this week by the charity Barnardos gauged the mood of parents as they prepared to let their offspring back into the classroom. The vast majority believed school was an 'emotional' and 'social' benefit for their child.
Many would have discovered during lockdown that teaching is not the easiest job in the world, but up to 16pc of primary school parents and 21pc of secondary school parents said they would prefer if their child could stay at home. For them, the risk of catching Covid-19 outweighed any other benefits.
The Government plan acknowledges that staff "will not always be able to maintain physical distance from their students and it is not appropriate that they would be expected to do so where this could have a detrimental impact".
Many schools already struggle to keep class sizes low at both primary and secondary level and are short of teachers and classrooms at the best of times.
In primary schools, classroom life may be more familiar. Students below third class will not be required to physically distance from each other.
The typical primary school class will be known as a 'bubble', and within the bubble there will be 'pods', little clusters of pupils. Each year's bubble will stay as far apart from other classes as it can and pods will be separated by one metre.
In drawing up its plans, Department of Education and public health officials will have learned from the experience in other countries where schools have reopened.
In Germany, where pupils returned in May, tests were carried out on 2,000 schoolchildren and teachers in the state of Saxony for a study by the university hospital in Dresden.
Very few showed antibodies to Covid-19 (which indicate if someone has had the virus), with only 12 positive antibody results among 2,000 samples. This early study suggested schools may not play as big a role in spreading the virus as some had feared.
But perhaps it is too early to conclude how they affect the spread of the virus. Commenting on the reopening of schools this week, Professor Luke O'Neill, an immunologist based at Trinity College Dublin, said on Newstalk: "I think it would be a good idea if secondary school students wear masks, certainly if they can't socially distance properly." Under the present plans, the wearing of masks will be optional.
The second waves of the coronavirus around the world underline how Irish schools, teachers and pupils may have to be adaptable in coming months. In recent weeks, the virus has surged in Melbourne and in the state of Victoria, including a number of outbreaks in schools. At Genazzano FCJ College, the girl's secondary school where Dubliner Lorna Beegan is deputy principal, only the final two years returned to the classroom after the most recent holidays.
With the number of daily cases in the city running into hundreds, the rest of the school, which runs from primary to secondary level, are logging on to classes remotely. Melbourne is again in a state of partial lockdown.
"We went to a hard lockdown in March, so all schools closed. So we had to adapt quickly and we had to be very agile," says Beegan.
"The students would log on to our learning management system, which was well-developed, and there was a lot of self-directed learning. Within a few weeks, students were learning on Zoom for 10 or 15 minutes during a lesson and then we would give them some time to do their work. We didn't want the students to spend too much time on Zoom.
"The first time we did it we were very excited about how we had upskilled and achieved so much," she says, but heading into lockdown a second time has been harder.
"Everybody is a bit flat now and teachers are working hard to keep students motivated and engaged. Student wellbeing is a top priority."
The pupils have to wear masks, and teachers also have face coverings, apart from when they are addressing a class. Every pupil has their temperature checked upon arrival. If there is any sign of a high temperature or other cold symptoms, they must go home.
In the Italian region of Lombardy, once the epicentre of the European outbreak, there are fears of a second wave, according to Tullamore teacher Lynda Colton. She works in the preschool section of an international school in Milan, and her seven-year-old daughter Abbie attends at primary level. Schools return at the end of the month.
"Abbie is very much looking forward to going back because she missed the social interaction of school," Colton says.
When her daughter returns, she will have to wear a mask, apart from when she is in the playground. Unlike in Irish primary schools, there will be one-metre social distancing.
"She will be able to mix with her own class, but not with the other classes until it all settles down again," her mother says.
All the teachers in the Milan school will have their temperatures checked when they arrive in school and they will wear masks.
While in many schools around the world, teachers and pupils are required to wear masks, they are not part of the regulations everywhere. That is a bone of contention among some teachers both in Ireland and abroad.
Julia, a second-level teacher from Dublin working in London, says: "It seems a bit of an anomaly that you have to wear a mask to spend a minute in a small shop, but you spend hours in a room with kids in a classroom and you don't wear one."
Under the Irish government guidelines at second level, face coverings are optional unless social distancing of one metre is not possible. Visors are suggested as an option for teachers so that they can communicate effectively through facial expressions.
The Government's €375m education package allows for the recruitment of an extra 1,000 additional secondary school teachers. That is certainly an ambitious target, particularly when the staff have to be found between now and the end of the month. But the teachers will still be spread fairly thinly when one considers that there are more than 700 second-level schools.
"Staffing is going to be a huge challenge, particularly when people are out sick," says Brian Crossan, principal of Gort Community School, where there are 900 pupils. "I have worked out that I will get one-and-a-half teachers.
"It will be a help, but it will only really be a drop in the ocean when you consider what is required to make smaller classes and ensure social distancing."
According to the principal, teachers would normally continue working when they have a head cold, but that will not be an option when they show any symptoms of Covid-19.
As well as extra teachers, schools will need more substitutes to cover for them when they are sick.
Most schools did not wait until this week before beginning preparations for a return to school. At second-level, they followed preliminary guidelines indicating that there would be social distancing requirements.
At the fee-charging co-ed school Stratford College in Rathgar, there have been significant changes to the layout to avoid unnecessary interactions between pupils. Screens are being placed around teachers' desks, and fire escape stairs can be used so that there is a one-way system as teachers and students move around the school. The library has been turned into a quarantine area and the main assembly hall is to be used as a classroom.
Some of the senior cycle classes are already small, but larger junior cycle classes of about 28 will be broken up into two groups of 14. Lunch will be eaten in the classrooms, and assemblies will take place on screens. There will be staggered start times to the school day.
Principal Patricia Gordon tells Review that during lockdown, the school adapted quickly, as staff and students communicated via video conferencing services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
"We still tried to emphasise that we were part of a school community and all in this together," she says. "There was a great spirit among staff and willingness to ensure that we continued teaching. There was 90pc engagement among students, which was great." In the coming weeks, there is bound to be some worry among students as they face the return to school after almost half a year away.
So how can parents ease the transition from the post-lockdown holiday to getting up early and returning to school with Covid-19 still uppermost in the public mind?
Sligo teacher Luke Saunders says parents can make the reopening of easier for the student by keeping them well-informed about what it will be like.
"For months, students have been told that they shouldn't gather together and now they will be in school with over 500 other people," he says. "That is bound to create anxiety."
The biology and geography teacher, who founded the revision site Studyclix, says: "Parents should be upfront in giving all the information about why they are going back and explain that the numbers in Ireland are now low.
"You shouldn't belittle their concerns, but help them to visualise what will happen. In that way you can offer them reassurance."
Dallan Curran, aged 11
I don't know what to expect when I go back to school. L ots will be the same, but many things will be different. It's my last year at Scoil Naomh Fionán in Whitecastle, Co Donegal, so I hope it goes well.
The main thing I'm concerned about is picking up the coronavirus and bringing it home with me. There will be social distancing in the class to avoid spreading the virus, but I'm glad we don't have to wear face masks in class. That would be rotten.
We're being told that each class has to be its own bubble. Inside each bubble are pods. I hope I end up in the same pod as my close friends. I wouldn't struggle as much getting back into the flow of things if I was with them.
At break time, I'll be able to play with all of my classmates, and that will be great. With lockdown, I missed playing with them, but we started to get together again over the last few weeks when they'd call to my house and we would go out on our bikes.
When I think about what I like most about school, I wonder how it will be affected by the new rules. I love going on outings and trips, especially to athletics meetings, but I don't know how these things will happen.
I also love going to the library and picking an interesting book to read. I don't know if the school library will be able to reopen because of the way books are shared. I'll be really disappointed if it doesn't.
I struggled during lockdown to concentrate on my homeschooling. There were so many distractions like playing with my dog, the temptation to play outside on a sunny day and even the sound of the kettle boiling. I have to admit, I was looking for every excuse and shortcut to get out of it.
Being back at school with my class and teacher will get me into learning again. I don't want to end up back in lockdown. I'm lucky because I go to a great school with great teachers.
No matter what happens, I hope lots of people don't become unwell. I live close to my granny and granddad and I don't want them to get Covid-19, and I don't want to have to stay away from them again.
It's good that I still have one more year of primary school to go. If coronavirus kept me at home for another year, I'd feel very unprepared for the big step up to secondary school. I want to leave Scoil Naomh Fionán knowing that I've had the chance to give it my best shot.
Catriona Doherty may have more reason than most to hope that the return to school goes smoothly. When she goes back to work as a teacher at Scoil Eoghain in Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula, Co Donegal, her two sons will be in tow. Tiernan (7) will be in second class and Conall (5) in senior infants.
She is glad to be returning to work but admits: "It doesn't change the fact that it's scary." She says the roadmap to reopen schools is welcome, but that teachers have not been given enough time to get things ready for the end of the month.
Teachers will be under enormous pressure as they try to teach a packed curriculum while constantly reminding children to stay socially distant, says Doherty, who lives in Gleneely.
She says it is a relief that the one-metre social distancing rule will not apply to junior classes, where play is important to children's development.
She will take one of two junior infants' classes, each with 17 pupils, and she plans to teach outside as much as possible. She does not envy the task of teachers trying to manage up to 30 children at a time.
"Because I don't have anyone vulnerable at home, I'm delighted to be going back," she says. "My own children need it. I know how difficult lockdown has been for the children I was teaching so I'm happy for the kids. But I am worried about the virus and I don't know if the measures the Government is putting in place are enough."
More guidance on how special needs assistants (SNAs) are to operate would be welcome, she says. "SNAs are typically shared between children. The idea of a bubble of classrooms when SNAs are trying to move between different classrooms won't work," she says. "They could also be working across three different schools. How does this work?"
Substitute teachers are another concern. Doherty believes that in rural areas where schools are always crying out for substitutes, it would be safer to give schools more dedicated part-time teachers to cover absences.
Mother-of-four Samantha Kenny, from Grangemellon, Co Kildare, has two sons with autism and a daughter with a rare genetic disorder who needs constant care. She feels that families with complex needs have been overlooked in the roadmap to reopen schools.
Her oldest son, Ethan (15), is at Gaelcholáiste Cheatharlach in Carlow where his younger brother Tristan, who has autism, will join him in September. Her eight-year-old son Oran, who also has autism, goes to the Gaelscoil in Athy, Co Kildare, while her youngest child Ava (5) is due to start at St Laserian's special needs school in Carlow.
Ava has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a disorder that affects many parts of the body. She has growth restriction, low muscle tone, epilepsy, an intellectual disability and hearing and vision impairment. The family has been cocooning since mid-June because of her vulnerability.
Kenny says she has more questions than answers following the publication of the roadmap. While she is worried about the health implications of Covid-19 coming into her house - something that would be devastating to Ava's health - she wants that her children return to school.
"I know my own limits. I can't homeschool my children. I don't have all the skills to be a parent and a teacher," she says. "School provides an anchor. They get socialisation. Ava got therapy at her pre-school."
With Ava's health meaning that a high temperature can result in a trip to the hospital, however, Kenny would have liked more clarity on how her return would be handled.
"I'm looking at it and I'm thinking what am I supposed to do? There's no provision for us," she says. "Ava doesn't fall into the 'strict' very high-risk group. She's not immune-suppressed and she's not on medication, but if she gets the virus, she wouldn't cope, because of her epilepsy."
Kenny is concerned that special needs schools such as Ava's are being forgotten.
She is also worried about Oran's access to his special needs assistant and would like to be informed if there's a Covid-19 case in any of her children's schools.
There are fears schools have "very little chance" of being completely ready to reopen in four weeks' time as they will be obliged to engage in a tender process for any building work that has to be carried out to enable physical distancing for pupils.