The British government conceded that plans to return children to school in England were unworkable. After weeks of resistance from teachers and local authorities, barely half of the pupils in primary-year groups that could have gone back have done so. The return of pupils to secondary schools has also been postponed until September.

What does the sentence mean? It supposed only half of the pupils would return to school, and then half them did return?

  • Arrangements had been made for a certain number of children to return to school. In fact, only half that number did so. – Kate Bunting Jun 16 '20 at 12:04
  • Thank you. And in "that could have gone back", which one does "that" here refer to, "the pupils", "half of the pupils" or "barely half of the pupils"? – wtdark Jun 16 '20 at 12:14
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    Of the pupils that could have gone back (the number the schools were expecting), only half that number actually went back. – Kate Bunting Jun 16 '20 at 12:23

Let's break this down. The starting point is that pupils were away from school. The government permitted some pupils in primary year groups to return to school, but some were not permitted to return. ("Primary year groups" means "in elementary school").

The ones permitted to return are "the pupils in primary-year groups that could have gone back". The sentence is stating that "barely half" of those did actually return to school. "Barely half" means only very slightly more than half.

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