DOZENS of teachers across Dorset were absent because of coronavirus on just one day before Christmas, new figures reveal.

The Association of School and College Leaders said the past few months of the pandemic had put English schools under “enormous pressure”, calling for education staff to be prioritised for the vaccine.

Department for Education figures show 11 teachers and school leaders in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole state schools were absent with either a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 on December 17. Nine were off for the same reason in the Dorset Council area.

There were also 38 forced to isolate in BCP and 25 in Dorset.

On December 17, all schools that responded to the survey across the county were open, after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened one council with legal action to prevent it closing schools.

Across England, 4.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent because of coronavirus on what was the last day of term for many schools.

Absence rates due to Covid-19 varied widely throughout the country, from 17.9 per cent in the London borough of Havering, to just 0.5% per cent in Torbay.

It is not known how many teachers in schools that had closed and moved to online-only lessons had coronavirus at the time, so the figures are likely to be under-estimates.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: "The level of staff absence as a result of coronavirus is obviously affected by local infection rates, and the turbulence of the past few months has put schools under enormous pressure.

"It shows why it is important that the Government prioritises education staff in phase two of the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme.

"This will provide reassurance to staff and it will minimise further disruption when schools are fully open again."

Pupils in schools and colleges – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February amid the lockdown.

And England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries suggested that a regional approach may be taken when schools do reopen.

Asked by the Commons’ Education Select Committee whether there could be a regional or phased reopening, Dr Harries said: "I think it’s likely that we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions."

The DfE figures also show 50 teaching assistants and other school staff in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and 40 in Dorset were absent for coronavirus-related reasons on December 17.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the new figures show every school is experiencing the impact of Covid-19 differently, and therefore it was a sensible idea to reopen areas at different speeds.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, added: "If that is the Government’s plan, then we would urge them to provide clarity sooner rather than later on the local conditions that will need to be met.

"This will give vital time to prepare and enable a smoother reopening of schools and businesses."

A DfE spokeswoman said the Government will keep plans for the return to school under review, but will work to reopen them as soon as possible.