Proportion of pupils off school for Covid-related reasons soars

Proportion of pupils off school for Covid-related reasons soars in a week – as the number of students forced to self-isolate quadruples from 40,000 to 172,000

  • Government data suggests Covid-related pupil absence in English state schools is at its highest rate since all schools fully reopened in March 2021
  • The Delta variant is thought to be responsible for the rise in case numbers 
  • School leaders are calling on Government to think about how to reduce disruption to pupils after the summer break

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 per cent of state school pupils – at least 239,000 children – did not attend class for Covid-related reasons on June 17, up from 1.2 per cent on June 10.

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

In secondary schools, only 84.9 per cent attended class last week, down from 88.7 per cent, while 93 per cent of pupils attended primary school, down from 95.1 per cent 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 per cent 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.

The proportion of pupils out of class due to Covid-related reasons has nearly trebled in just one week, Government figures show [Stock image]

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

The figures came as a primary school in Bury revealed it had just one class remaining after being hit by a number of Covid cases. 

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.’

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.’

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 [Stock image]

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.’

The figures came as Christ Church Primary School Walshaw, in Bury, revealed it had just one class remaining after being hit by a number of Covid cases. 

The school had experienced little disruption throughout the whole of the pandemic until cases started to appear after May half term.

Since June 11, a dozen pupils and five members of staff – two of whom had received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine – have tested positive.

Sarah Howard, headteacher of the 266-pupil school, said the Year 1/2 class is now the only one left after the Year 1 bubble closed on Tuesday morning.

‘Those 12 cases have had a huge impact because the guidance means we have to close a class when someone tests positive,’ she said.

‘In the whole time since March 23, 2020, we had a total of four positive staff and a handful of children so we had minimal disruption. 

‘This is nothing like we’ve experienced.’

Mrs Howard added: ‘It must be the variant being much more transmissible and we know it’s having an impact across our area.’

The figures came as Christ Church Primary School Walshaw, in Bury (pictured), revealed it had just one class remaining after being hit by a number of Covid cases

She said that staff are taking daily lateral flow tests, but there has been an issue with some returning negative results, where PCR tests have later proved positive.

‘People are generally following the rules and we have found that even though the lateral flow tests aren’t aimed at primary children, a lot of our families have been using them anyway. 

‘But we have had a number of members of staff who have tested negative with an LFT and then the next day they’re suddenly positive.’

Like all pupils sent home as close contacts of a positive case, children from the Church Street school are all being asked to get a PCR test done. 

Education leaders in Oldham have called for secondary schools to be able to test close contacts of confirmed cases daily instead of sending them home.

They say the current situation – with thousands of youngsters remote learning once again – is nearing crisis point with just a few weeks of learning left before the summer holidays.  

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