The beginning of the school term has an added weight to it this year after months of disruption faced by pupils due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite a general feeling of relief at pupils in England and Wales being able to return to classrooms this week, there is still caution over the potential for infection rates to rise again as a result.

There will also be a number of changes in place to help minimise the risk to the health of pupils and members of staff and disruption to learning, like the introduction of lateral flow tests for pupils.

On the whole, teachers in Cumbria seemed optimistic about the beginning of the academic year.

Cumwhitton Primary School teacher and secondary school governor, Louise Atkinson, said it would be "horrific and devastating" for children to have to be sent home again.

"It's something that I never want to experience again as a teacher or as a parent," said Ms Atkinson, who is also the National Education Union Vice President.

"I don't think we will end up there again, but what we do need to take care of are those children who are contracting Covid and are having to isolate because of that.

"That has an impact on those children and those families. It's about keeping ourselves and the community safe."

According to government statistics, the number of Covid-19 infections in Cumbria increased by 209 cases in the seven days up to August 27 - that's a rise of 15 per cent.

Figures also show that there was an increase of 68 cases during the same period of time in Carlisle.

In Allerdale and Copeland there were increases of 73 cases and 61 respectively.

Ms Atkinson added that schools and colleges will be doing everything they can to minimise the risk to pupils, staff and members of the community.

She said: "I know a lot of schools and colleges are keeping some of the precautions in place.

"Things like having face masks in communal areas and the reduction of face to face meetings.

"It's about caution and being vigilant. Covid hasn't gone away and we need to keep some of the precautions in place. We need to keep children and young people in school for as long as possible."

Children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19.

Instead, they will need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.

On the potential for pupils to be sent home again, she added: "It's a case of watching and waiting.

"[The need to isolate] was causing a lot of problems last term and a lot of children as a close contact needed to isolate for 10 days before they took a test.

"We don't know what's going to happen.

"As we move into the winter, it's a case of just being vigilant and keeping an eye on things.

"The priority is obviously about keeping everyone in the community safe, along with ensuring that we're keeping education going for as long possible and in as normal a way as possible."

One of the changes in England that some staff are particularly positive about is an end to keeping year group pupils in 'bubbles' to reduce mixing.

Face coverings will also no longer be advised.

Teacher at Trinity School in Carlisle, Jo Ellis-Williams, said teachers in the area will be better prepared this term and is looking forward to the start of term.

She said: "I'm feeling incredibly positive about it. I think with the lifting of bubbles will make a difference.

"We've been setting up our classrooms these past couple of days and I think it just makes such a difference to teachers to have a bit of normality back into their day to day schedule.

"I'm so pleased that I don't have to wear a mask when I'm teaching and I'm so pleased that the students don't have to wear a mask whilst they're being taught because you miss so much communication when you are masked up.

"I'm looking forward to things being as lot easier, but we still have to be careful.

"The senior management team here have been very good at putting certain health and safety precautions in place.

"We're going to try and keep students apart as much as possible and re-iterate appropriate behaviour.

"We have still got to be careful and that we keep each other safe.

"It's great to be getting back to normal and it does feel like we are going to have a really good year."

Doing the jobs that come with adapting a classroom to a Covid-altered world will be adding extra work on teachers, but Ms Ellis-Williams said it is nothing new to staff.

She added: "We did it last year and we're used to those extra health and safety conditions.

"We will just have to keep re-iterating the message that you have got to be Covid safe and sensible."

On the prospect of children having to be sent home again due to high infection rates, Ms Ellis Willaims added: "There's always going to be that risk that Covid-19 cases will rise and that we might have to teach virtually again.

"I really hope that doesn't happen."

According to PA, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC radio that he will "move heaven and earth" to avoid shutting schools again, but he did not rule out a rise in Covid-19 infections being caused by children going back to class.

The NHS is preparing to ensure it is ready to potentially offer Covid-19 vaccines to all 12 to 15-year-olds in England from this month, although a decision has yet to be taken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about this age group.

Parents in Cumbria are also optimistic about seeing their children return to face to face education in the classroom.

However, much like the teachers there is still the concern that infection rates could rise and that they could see their children returning home to be taught.

Leah Belle, 37, from Cockermouth is seeing her son go to school and her daughter go to college this week.

"We saw a massive spike last year when the schools went back and because a lot of the kids have had events over the summer, a lot have ended up having to stay in and isolate," said Leah, who also runs a hair salon.

"I do have worries."

Leah, who has suffered with Covid-19 and still suffers from long Covid, added: "It's good to see everything getting back to normal, but because I'm aware of how horrible it can be, I do still have concerns."

"I am a bit apprehensive, but you can't keep them at home and lock them in."