HUNDREDS of teaching and support staff were unable to return to work today after they were stranded abroad because of the suspension of all flights into Britain.

Schools and colleges said staff had been unable to return from their Easter holidays after the National Air Traffic Services warned that volcanic ash could cause aeroplane faults.

At St Mary’s College, Blackburn, one of the eight teaching staff caught out by the airport closures had flown from Phuket, Thailand, to Bangkok and then on to Dubai and Nice.

After arriving in France the teacher travelled to Calais to queue for the first available ferry to return home.

Students at Stonyhurst College were also making an alternative way back from a trip to Italy, and a number of overseas students have not yet returned.

Darwen Vale High School’s exchange trip is on hold and at Nelson and Colne College students visiting Pendle's twin town of Marl, Germany, are travelling back to the UK by ferry on Wednesday.

Seventeen students from Thomas Whitham Sixth Form in Burnley have also been forced to make their way back from a trip to Italy by land after their flight, due tomorrow, was cancelled.

In Pendle, the headteacher St John Fisher and Thomas More RC High School Chris Bohills is stuck in Spain, and deputy head Eileen Howard said that five of its 41 teachers did not make it into school.

Headteachers have received requests from parents of stranded pupils to email work across and teachers have also been emailing lessons for pupils at school.

Bosses at the qualifications watchdog Joint Council for Qualifications sid GCSE exams could be moved for pupils left stranded abroad as the summer term begins.

David Whyte, headteacher of St Wilfrid’s CofE High School Technology College, which has 12 staff and six support staff off, said: “We have got supply cover to cover these absences and the school is functioning as normal.

“I do feel sorry for the people who are stranded. We just don’t know when they will be coming back.”

Janet Walsh, headteacher at Primet High School, Colne, said the shortages at her school equated to around an eighth of the total staff.

She said: "We are able to cover absences at the moment and we are not in crisis.

“But the longer that the problems with travel persist the more we will have to start thinking about other options.”

Kevin McMahon, principal of St Mary’s College, said: “Despite exhausting journeys and, in some cases, significant costs, all our staff are valiantly battling to get back to their students and classes.

“If they haven’t been able to make it today they have all called in and posted work for their students on our virtual learning environment, Moodle’.

Gladys Rhodes, strategic director of children’s services for Blackburn with Darwen Council, said; “Whilst some schools do have staff who are absent due to the current travel restrictions, there are no significant problems for schools within the borough.

“Those schools effected have made arrangements to cover any staff absences and are managing the situation well.”

Helen Denton, Lancashire County Council's executive director for children and young people, said: "Our schools are more used to coping with extremes of the British weather rather than the effects of a volcano but they are swiftly making arrangements to cover any gaps in staffing and we are offering additional support where necessary."


Among the schools whose staff have been stranded abroad are:

Blackburn College, 27 staff
St Bede's Roman Catholic High School, Blackburn, 10
Blakewater College, Blackburn, 2
Beardwood Humanities College, Blackburn, 6
St Wilfrid's CofE High School and Technology College, Blackburn, 18
Darwen Vale High School, Darwen, 3
St Mary’s College, Blackburn, 8
Hamledon Community College, Burnley, 6
Blessed Trinity RC College, Burnley, 4
St Augustine's Roman Catholic High School, Billington, 5
Rhyddings Business and Enterprise School, Oswaldtwistle, 5
West Craven High Technology College, Barnoldswick, 6
Marsden Heights Community College, Brierfield, 4
Primet High School, Colne, 10
Pendle Vale College, Nelson, 5
St John Fisher and Thomas More RC High School, Colne, 5
Ribblesdale School, Clitheroe, 9
Norden High School and Sports College, Rishton, 7
Stonyhurst College, Hurst Green, 10
Fearns Community Sports College, Bacup, 12