Tens of thousands of pupils still at home self-isolating despite high attendance

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

More than nine in 10 pupils attended schools in England last week – but a growing number of children were self-isolating at home due to possible contact with Covid-19 cases, Government figures show.

Attendance in state schools last week was the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis shows.

But the data suggests that 169,000 pupils were out of class and self-isolating on Thursday last week due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.

The DfE estimates that approximately 2% of all state school pupils on roll – up to 201,000 children – did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on March 18, up from 1% on March 11.

This includes 127,000 pupils who have been self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the educational setting, and a further 42,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside of school.

Meanwhile, 21,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, 7,000 were off after testing positive for Covid-19, and 4,000 were absent as their school was closed due to Covid-19 reasons.

In the week before – on March 11 – 7,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, while just 2,000 children were absent from class because their school was closed due to Covid-19.

Secondary schools in England were given flexibility to stagger the return of their pupils between March 8 and 12 as these students are being asked to take voluntary Covid-19 tests on site as part of their return.

Overall, attendance in state schools was 91% on March 18, up from 89% on March 11 – when some secondary schools were still phasing in the return of pupils due to the logistics of mass testing.

Around 89% of secondary school pupils were in class on March 18 – a similar proportion to the start of the second week of schools reopening in England.

But attendance in primary schools fell to 93% on Thursday last week from 95% the previous week, the figures show.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is inevitable with schools fully open once again that there will be positive cases and close contacts having to self-isolate in line with Covid protocols.

“This is evident in the fact that there was a slight increase last week in the proportion of pupils not attending school for Covid-related reasons compared to the previous week.

“As we have warned previously, this sort of disruption is likely to be a feature of school life for a while to come yet, and we are not out of the woods.”

But he added that the highest reported attendance during the pandemic was a “remarkable achievement by schools” who have introduced a range of safety measures.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Attendance in schools is now the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic, as students and staff continue to follow the protective measures set out in our guidance to reduce transmission of the virus.

“While the testing programme continues to gather pace, with millions of tests now being conducted each week, we are only seeing a small increase in the numbers of students testing positive and self-isolating.

“As secondary students, all school staff, and parents and carers of all children continue testing twice-weekly from home, we encourage everyone to keep playing their part, testing themselves regularly to keep everyone as safe as possible.”