More than half of secondary schools sent pupils home last week to self-isolate, official data shows.
Last Thursday 55 per cent of secondaries had students learning from home, up from 46 per cent the previous week, according to the latest data from the Department for Education (DfE).
The figures come amid growing concern about the number of students who are missing out on classroom time due because they have been deemed as a potential contact of someone who has tested positive.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the figures paint a “grim picture” of the challenges schools face.
He said the ministers have “completely underestimated” the number of laptops that would be needed by schools to teach large numbers of pupils remotely while they self-isolate.
“Our impression is that the government has never fully grasped the scale of the challenge both in terms of the numbers of devices that are needed and over ensuring that families have the connectivity they require,” he said.
Separate figures, published by the Government response to a written question, reveal huge regional disparities in the proportion of children missing school.
While all local authorities in the south west, south east and east of England had over 90 per cent attendance, this fell to as low as 61 per cent in one area of the north west.
The regional and local breakdown of attendance data, recorded on October 15, shows that secondary schools in the south west of England had the highest rate of attendance with 90 per cent of pupils in school, was closely followed by the South East and the east of England which each had 89 per cent attendance.
Meanwhile the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber had the joint lowest attendance rate at 81 per cent, followed by the North East at 83 per cent.
Some of the lowest attendance rates in the country were in the North West, with Knowsley at 61 per cent, Liverpool at 67 per cent and Oldham at 73 per cent.
The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a think tank chaired by George Osborne, has urged ministers to scrap GCSEs and A-levels next summer given the amount of school missed by children in the north.
“Northern students are the ones currently being impacted negatively by high infection rates and self-isolation,” the organisation said.
"We appreciate the government's desire to try and keep things as normal as possible but this is now not possible in many northern communities.We urge the government to commit to continuous assessment as it is a fairer alternative to the proposed examination plan.”
A DfE spokeswoman said that exams will go ahead next year, adding that they are the “fairest way” of judging a student’s performance.
“Over 99 per cent of schools have been open every week since term began and millions of pupils were attending last week, benefiting from time with their friends and teachers,” a spokesman said.
"As we would expect, some pupils are self-isolating in line with public health advice but the average size of those groups is relatively small compared to the total number of pupils on roll.
"Remote education should be provided from the first full school day that a child has to remain at home to ensure they do not fall behind."