Proportion of pupils off for Covid-related reasons nearly trebles in a week

Pupils in masks (PA Wire)
13:59pm, Tue 22 Jun 2021
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The proportion of pupils out of class due to Covid-related reasons has nearly trebled in just one week, Government figures show.

Data released by the Department for Education (DfE) suggests that Covid-related pupil absence in state schools in England is currently at its highest rate since all schools fully reopened in March 2021.

The attendance figures for pupils have been adjusted since June 7 to exclude year 11-13 students identified as not in attendance because they are off-site.

The DfE estimates that around 3.3% of state school pupils – at least 239,000 children – did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on June 17, up from 1.2% on June 10.

Around 89.7% of state school pupils were in class on June 17, down from 92.4% on June 10.

We simply cannot have another term of large numbers of children spending time out of school because of coronavirus

In secondary schools, only 84.9% attended class last week, down from 88.7%, while 93% of pupils attended primary school, down from 95.1% on June 10.

The number of pupils self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the school quadrupled in just one week, from 40,000 on June 10 – the week after half-term – to 172,000 children on June 17.

A further 42,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside school, up from 32,000 the previous week.

Meanwhile, 16,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, up from 11,000 on June 10, and 9,000 were off after testing positive for Covid-19, up from 7,000.

Around 0.1% of pupils in state schools were absent on June 17 because their school was closed due to Covid-19 related reasons, a slight rise on last week.

In primary schools, Covid absence rates were 2.7% on June 17, up from 1.1% on June 10, while 4.2% of secondary school pupils expected to attend were off for Covid-related reasons last week, up from 1.4% on June 10.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These statistics show a large and extremely worrying increase in the number of children absent from school for Covid-related reasons.

“It clearly reflects the climbing rate of coronavirus cases in society in general and the prevalence of the Delta variant.

“It means that many pupils and schools are experiencing yet more disruption after more than a year of turbulence and it is a grim way to reach the closing stages of the school year.”

He called on the Government to think urgently about how to reduce disruption after the summer break.

Mr Barton added: “We simply cannot have another term of large numbers of children spending time out of school because of coronavirus.”

Where students have to self-isolate, schools are providing high-quality remote education

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “The further drop in school attendance figures shows the pressure schools continue to operate under when it comes to managing Covid-19 cases.

“Schools are continuing to work incredibly hard to ensure that all the safety arrangements recommended by government remain in place.

“However, we can see that case numbers are continuing to rise amongst children and teenagers and so it is essential that local public health teams are given the freedom to react quickly and put additional precautions in place where this is necessary – seeking central government approval for such action only risks delaying the necessary measures being put in place.

“This is essential to preserve the continuity of education for pupils. As the Prime Minister says, Covid will be with us for some time yet.

“With that in mind, it is imperative that the Government also gives schools clear instructions about what scenarios they should expect to plan for in September.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Schools across the country continue to have robust protective measures in place, including regular twice weekly testing to break chains of transmission and keeping pupils in smaller group bubbles.

“We are also taking additional measures in areas where there is a high prevalence of the virus, including increasing the availability of testing for staff, pupils and families and working with directors of public health on further measures to reduce local transmission. Absence in schools continues to reflect wider community transmission.

“Where students have to self-isolate, schools are providing high-quality remote education.”

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