AS TEACHERS welcomed pupils back to classrooms yesterday estimates show more than four in five across both Dorset and BCP council areas were learning remotely before the half term break.

The return of all students for face-to-face learning for the first time in 2021 is the initial step in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposed roadmap out of lockdown for England.

Department for Education figures reveal just 16 per cent of BCP pupils were being taught on site at schools, while the figure was 19 per cent in rural Dorset, in the latest snapshot assessment taken on February 11. A month earlier these figures were at 15 and 16 per cent.

The attendance rate at BCP primary schools was higher, at 24 per cent, compared to seven per cent in secondary schools. In Dorset, primary schools were at 28 per cent and secondaries were at nine per cent.

The latest figures are based on responses to a survey from 94 per cent of the conurbation’s state-funded schools and 86 per cent of those in the Dorset Council area.

Pupils in schools and colleges in England, except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, have been learning remotely since the start of the current lockdown in January.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the number of children being educated on site has been “much higher” than during the first lockdown at many schools.

“It has been extremely unhelpful that the Government has at no point clarified whether there is a safe limit,” he added.

“Schools are now focused on the task of reopening to all pupils from March 8. They are very much looking forward to welcoming back all children.

“However, this has been made more challenging for secondary schools by the lack of clear direction from the Government over the use of face coverings in classrooms, as well as the huge logistical exercise of running Covid testing stations.”

The data from the February 11 assessment also shows the availability of education staff.

In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, six per cent of teachers and school leaders were unable to teach on site or remotely on February 11. Approximately two per cent were off for Covid-related reasons. For Dorset, five per cent were unable to teach on site or remotely, with a very small fraction off for virus issues.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Everyone working in schools and colleges has been going to extraordinary lengths over the past weeks and months to continue educating our young people, providing care for vulnerable children and juggling the demands of having some children in school while most receive their education remotely.”

He added the DfE will introduce extra safety measures, including asking secondary school students to wear face coverings in classrooms and providing twice-weekly rapid testing for students and their families.