Covid-related pupil absences in England jump to 840,000 | Schools

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The number of pupils absent from schools in England for Covid-related reasons is at its highest since schools fully reopened in March, with almost 840,000 children out of class last week, according to official government data.

Absence rates jumped to 11.2%, more than doubling in a fortnight, with the vast majority of pupils being sent home to self-isolate, though suspected and confirmed cases of Covid were also up.

The figures reflect the continuing surge in infections across the country, but also the policy in schools of sending home “bubbles” of children who have been in contact with a positive case, which has resulted in large numbers of pupils off school even though they are well and have not tested positive.

According to Department for Education statistics, 747,000 students were self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus last week, up from 561,000 the week before. Schools will be allowed to abandon bubbles after 19 July, when most will have already broken up or will be just days away from the start of the summer break.

The data shows that about 11.2% of pupils attending state schools in England were not in class for Covid-19 related reasons on 8 July, up from 8.5% on 1 July and 5.1% on 24 June. Of those, 35,000 were off last week with suspected Covid and 39,000 with positive tests, up from 28,000 positive cases the week before, and about 18,000 children were at home because their schools were closed.

Overall attendance in all schools, adjusted for years 11-13 already being off site, stood at 80.4% on 8 July, down from 87.4% two weeks earlier. Secondary schools have been hardest hit, with attendance down to 73.6%, from 82.4% on 24 June. Staff have also been affected, with 5.4% of teachers and school leaders in schools that are open absent due to Covid-related reasons, up from 2.5% a fortnight earlier.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This further large increase in Covid-related pupil absence is more evidence, if it were needed, of the crisis in schools and colleges caused directly by the rules requiring teachers to send home large numbers of children to self-isolate who do not necessarily have the virus.

“The government’s decision to end this disruptive policy when the autumn term begins now heralds another huge set of challenges for education settings.”

Barton called for financial and practical support to help schools set up asymptomatic testing and high-quality air ventilation systems at the start of the next academic year to protect students and staff.

He added: “All of these measures might not be needed if a decision is reached to vaccinate all students aged 12 and over and the continuing deafening silence from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation on the subject is mystifying. With just days left of the current academic year, school and college leaders need to know whether this is a possibility or not.”

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