Nearly nine in ten pupils return to class as schools fully reopen

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

Nearly nine in 10 pupils have attended schools in England since they began to fully reopen last week, Government figures show.

About 89% of secondary school pupils were in class on March 15 – a week after secondary schools began to stagger the return of pupils for mass testing, the Department for Education analysis shows.

Attendance in primary schools began at 96% at the start of last week, but it fell to 94% on March 15.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has warned that attendance levels will “be bumpy” as pupils testing positive for Covid-19, and their close contacts, are still being sent home to self-isolate.

The data suggests more than 60,000 pupils were out of class last week as they were self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid case.

Millions of pupils in England began returning to class last week after months of remote education.

Secondary schools were given flexibility to stagger the return of their pupils last week, as these students are being asked to take voluntary Covid-19 tests on site as part of their return to class.

Overall, attendance in state schools steadily increased from 68% on March 8 to 89% on Thursday March 11.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that approximately 1% of all state school pupils did not attend school for Covid-related reasons on Thursday last week.

This includes 33,000 pupils who have been self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the educational setting, and a further 31,000 pupils self-isolating due to a possible contact outside of school.

Meanwhile, 7,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid, 5,000 were off after testing positive for Covid, and 2,000 were absent as their school was closed due to Covid reasons.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, warned that “we are not out of the woods yet”.

He said: “Secondary schools have put in a Herculean effort to provide on-site Covid tests to returning pupils and deserve huge credit for setting up what are essentially medical facilities. They did this with very little help or support from the Government.

“However, we must sound a note of caution over what attendance levels will look like for what remains of this term, because we are picking up reports of positive Covid cases and close contacts having to be sent home to self-isolate.

“It will continue to be bumpy, and we are not out of the woods yet.”

The latest figures show that DfE has dispatched 1,267,451 laptops and tablets to support disadvantaged pupils across England to access remote education since the start of the pandemic.

Figures show that 705,030 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges since the lockdown began on January 4 – which is an extra 16,713 devices compared with last week.

It comes after the Government pledged to provide 1.3 million devices to disadvantaged children.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is fantastic to see the overwhelming majority of children have now returned to the classroom, with all the benefits that face-to-face contact with their teachers and friends is proven to bring.

“I do not underestimate the preparation that has taken place to ensure our children could return safely and continue with their education and I am so grateful to the teachers and school staff who have made the transition so seamless – as well as managing testing and maintaining all the wider protective measures still in place to help keep everyone safe.”