Almost a quarter of a million children were absent from school because of Covid in the week before half term, new data shows, with the south west worst hit.
Department for Education attendance survey data shows 248,000 state school pupils, or 3.2 per cent of the total population were off for Covid-related reasons on October 21, up from 209,000, or 2.6 per cent of pupils the week before. This equates to a rise of 19 per cent.
Meanwhile, the overall attendance in secondary schools dropped to nearly 85 per cent.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it shows “just how bad things got at the end of last term, with both pupil and staff absence at their highest levels so far this year”.
The number of children off with a confirmed case of Covid rose to 127,000 on October 21, the highest number to date, up from 111,000 the week before. And 87,000 were off with a suspected case, up from 81,000.
But the headline data masks huge variations by local authority area. According to the DfE, Swindon’s upper estimate for the proportion of pupils unable to attend due to Covid was 22 per cent on October 21, compared to just 0.6 per cent in the London Borough of Brent.
DfE data shows that Swindon’s rates are so high because 17.7 per cent of pupils were absent due to attendance restrictions on October 21. It follows local reports of 40 outbreaks in Swindon schools in the week before half term.
However, Swindon Borough Council’s website states that its schools were due to break up on October 20, so it is unclear whether this muddies the data.
The second highest rate of Covid absence was in North Somerset, at 9.1 per cent.
Regional data shows Covid-related absence was highest in the South West, at 5 per cent on October 21, up from 2.8 per cent the week before. London had the lowest rate, at 1.6 per cent, up slightly from 1.3 per cent.
Whiteman added: “As we enter the second half of the autumn term, school leaders are worried that unless the government does more, disruption is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”
The latest Office for National Statistics infection survey data showed 9.1 per cent of pupils in years 7 to 11 were estimated to have tested positive in the week before half term. This equates to around one in 11 pupils, up from one in 13 the week before.
At primary level, 4.1 per cent of children aged two to school year 6 are estimated to have tested positive in the week before half term, equivalent to one in 24 pupils.
Today’s attendance data shows 12,000 pupils were absent because of attendance restrictions to manage an outbreak on October 21, up from 5,000 pupils on October 14.
Overall attendance was 85.7 per cent in secondary schools, down from 87.6 per cent, and 90.6 per cent in primary schools, down from 92.3 per cent.
Around 2.1 per cent of teachers and leaders and 1.8 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were off because of Covid on October 21, up from 1.8 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively the week before.