Around one in five primary school pupils in England were taught on-site last week, considerably higher than the number of those physically coming to class during the first national lockdown last spring, figures suggest.
Snapshot data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows 21% of primary pupils were taught in the classroom as of January 13, dropping to 5% (one in 20 pupils) of secondary school students.
Overall, 14% of all state school pupils in England were on-site last week, higher than when schools were partially closed between March and May last year as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept across the UK.
In fact, on-site attendance for primary school pupils during the first lockdown was approximately 4%, and 1% in secondary schools, according to the Government’s analysis.
Pupils in schools and colleges in England, except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, have been told to learn remotely until mid-February due to tighter restrictions.
But approximately 709,000 children of critical workers were in attendance on January 13 – which represents 72% of all pupils in attendance last week.
EU transition workers have been added to the list of parents who are eligible for school places during the latest lockdown.
The data also suggested a significant drop in the percentage of vulnerable pupils, those who are in touch with social services, or have special educational needs or disabilities, attending school.
It found that approximately 34% of all pupils with an EHCP (education health and care plan) on roll in state schools were in attendance on January 13, down from 75% on December 16 although this was when schools were open.
Government guidance says vulnerable children may include “pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home” due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study.
The latest DfE figures show that 239,103 laptops and devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since January 4 – when the latest lockdown was announced and schools closed to most pupils.
As of 8pm on Sunday January 17, a total of 801,524 laptops and tablets had been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the Government’s scheme to roll out devices.
The figures came as Downing Street reiterated the desire for schools to open “as soon as possible”, after deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries suggested that a regional approach may be taken in deciding when England’s pupils return.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the increased numbers of pupils in schools, compared with the first lockdown, put staff under “tremendous pressure” to juggle face-to-face teaching with remote learning for those at home.
He said: “It has also raised concerns about how many children it is safe to have in schools during a time in which the Prime Minister has advised people to stay at home and save lives.
“We still haven’t had a clear answer from the Government on this crucial question.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “More can be done to further the Government’s aim of driving down infection rates by ensuring staff to work at home wherever possible.
“We still regularly hear of schools expecting staff to teach remotely in empty classrooms or attend meetings which could happen online.
“Government guidance says that people should work from home unless absolutely necessary to be in work – this message needs to be adhered to in schools and colleges as much as in other workplaces.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know that teachers, school staff and parents have continued to work collaboratively and immensely hard since the start of this term to help children to learn at home and we know it is absolutely vital that we get devices out to children who need them the most.
“We are committed to delivering those devices to support both schools and families with remote learning and I’m proud to see us pass over 800,000 devices issued to schools and councils through the pandemic, with nearly 240,000 of those issued since schools closed to most pupils this month.”
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