One in eight children off school as fears grow over Covid rates

·3-min read
New figures on pupil absence have been released (Nicholas Ansell/PA) (PA Wire)
New figures on pupil absence have been released (Nicholas Ansell/PA) (PA Wire)

More than one in eight children are off school and the number of absent teachers and headteachers is continuing to increase, “extremely concerning” new figures reveal.

Latest data from the Department for Education shows the absence rate for pupils in state schools is 13.1 per cent - an increase of nearly a quarter from two weeks previously.

Before the pandemic, in the school year ending in 2019, the overall absence rate was just 4.7 per cent.

New figures also show that 8 per cent of teachers and headteachers were off school at the last count – on July 7 – up from 6.5 per cent a fortnight before.

The number of teaching assistants and other school staff absent has also increased.

The government no longer calculates the number of people off school with Covid, but teachers said Tuesday’s figures match with anecdotal evidence that the virus is on the rise.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Covid has absolutely not gone away, and in fact we are hearing that cases have been on the rise again recently – in line with numbers nationally.

“While the summer holidays are coming up soon, there is already worry about the autumn and winter.

“The government can’t just leave schools to it in dealing with Covid. Learners need and deserve better than that. We need a proper plan for how to live with it long-term that is focused on keeping levels low and reducing disruption.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It’s extremely concerning to see attendance rates for pupils falling rapidly again in today’s figures, and absence rates for teachers, leaders and support staff continuing to rise.

“It is impossible to know how many of these absences are directly due to Covid, as the government has made the decision to no longer collect this information.

“However, given the rising rates of infection across society, it is highly likely that Covid is playing a significant role in these worrying figures.”

He accused the government of appearing to “wash its hands” of responsibility for the rising rates, adding it is “now even more distracted by its own internal politics.”

He added: “We simply cannot have this pattern continue to repeat, particularly as we head into the colder months again in the autumn term. The government must re-focus on the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and come up with a strategy to minimise this ongoing disruption.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said the increasing number of pupils off school is a “wake-up call.”

He added: “The current Covid wave is occurring during mid-summer, when classroom windows are open and still the absence rate is high. This is a wake-up call.

“If the next Covid wave arrives in winter, transmission and sickness levels are likely to be much worse unless the Department for Education gets its act together and properly funds adequate ventilation in all classrooms."

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