Covid-related pupil absence hits new high as numbers sent home surge

·3-min read

Covid-related pupil absence in England has hit a new record high since all students fully returned to class in March this year, Government figures show.

Around one in 12 (8.5%) state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19-related reasons on July 1, up from 5.1% on June 24 and 3.3% on June 17, according to Department for Education (DfE) statistics.

These include approximately 561,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 34,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus and 28,000 with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

The figures come as the Education Secretary is due to make a statement to MPs on plans to replace the requirement for entire school bubbles to isolate after a positive Covid contact with enhanced testing.

Current rules state that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.

Education union leaders have criticised the Government’s plan to scrap school bubbles on July 19 alongside all legal coronavirus restrictions despite case numbers continuing to rise.

But some have supported the planned changes, arguing they would reduce “disruption” of education.

The latest attendance figures – which have been adjusted to exclude those year 11-13 students not expected to attend because they are off-site – show that an estimated 83.4% of state school pupils in England were in class on July 1, down from 87.4% on June 24 and 89.7% on June 17.

In secondary schools, only 76.9% attended class, down from 82.4%, while 87.8% of pupils attended primary school, down from 90.9%.

The number of pupils self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the school rose in just one week, from 279,000 on June 24 to 471,000 children on July 1.

A further 90,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside school, up from 57,000 the previous week.

Meanwhile, 34,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, up from 24,000 on June 24, and 28,000 were off after testing positive for Covid-19, up from 15,000.

Around 0.2% of pupils were absent on July 1 because their school was closed due to Covid-19 related reasons, compared to 0.1% the previous week.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is another massive rise in Covid-related pupil absence.

“The vast majority of these absences are children who are self-isolating not because they necessarily have the virus themselves, but because of potential contact with a positive case.

“It highlights why the Government’s rules on Covid management in schools and colleges must change in order to end this educational disruption and the Prime Minister yesterday confirmed this will happen as part of the step 4 road map in England.

“We look forward to hearing the details from the Education Secretary this afternoon.”

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