The 23 primary schools within the Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust family recorded a “highly encouraging” figure of 96.1% of children returning for the first day of term.

School staff and members of the trust’s Attendance Team – which was strengthened by a further five key appointments in the summer – have been working with families to reassure them and address any concerns.

NPCAT’s head of attendance, safeguarding and welfare Jill Benson was delighted with the start to this most unusual school year, with more children attending than the national average for an ordinary school day (95.8%).

“It’s highly encouraging to see so many children back,” she said. “All our schools have detailed risk assessments in place to prevent the transmission of coronavirus and parents are telling us that’s given them the positive reassurance they need to bring their children back.

“Schools have done an excellent job in getting the message across, with the support of the Attendance Team. Where children have been reluctant to return or parents have contacted schools with concerns, we’ve been able to reassure them and talk through what the risk assessments entail.

“We appreciate the concerns and anxieties pupils and parents have, particularly with mental health being a big issue at this time. We’ve made lots of calls to anxious parents and I’d expect more children to return as the week goes on.”

Kendra Sill, headteacher of St Benedict’s in Redcar, which has 387 pupils, said everything had gone to plan.

“We have a very strong community here and I’d like to thank parents for their cooperation,” she said. “They followed the one-way system and respected each other’s social distance.

“St Benedict’s has a learning mentor who kept in contact with those children who needed extra support during lockdown and was there ready to meet and greet any children who might find it tricky.

“But there were no tears or problems and the parents I spoke to said it was perfect. We had prepared so thoroughly and sent out communications throughout the holidays so that parents knew exactly what was going on.

“The children were all in their classrooms learning by nine o’clock, just as we’d planned it.”

Lunch was served so efficiently that it finished earlier than usual after children had enjoyed the usual choice of hot and cold dishes.

“The kitchen staff were brilliant,” said Mrs Sill. “At the end of the school day we had a staggered finish time. There were lots of smiling faces and one little boy didn’t want to go home! It’s been lovely to see them all – they were ready to return.”

NPCAT is one of the country’s largest Catholic academy trusts, with 9,000 pupils in 27 primary and secondary schools and a sixth form college across Teesside and into North Yorkshire.

During the summer it recruited further safeguarding partners, additional attendance managers, a home-school liaison officer and an attendance support officer.

“We’re a forward-thinking trust and as well as recruiting to improve the quality of teaching and learning, we have increased our capacity to support pupils and parents and ensure children have access to their education by improving attendance,” said Mrs Benson.

“Before lockdown the trajectory of our attendance figures was moving in the right direction and we’re determined to continue improving.

“Having the Attendance Team in place means we can respond more quickly to support parents and pupils and also adds to our ability to give pastoral support, which is all part of our role.”

The trust’s four secondary schools began a staggered return on Wednesday.