Almost one in ten secondary school pupils missed school in the last week of September after sickness absence doubled in just two weeks.
Attendance data published by the Department for Education shows overall absence leapt to 6.9 per cent in the week beginning September 25.
Although absence is still lower than during much of the spring and summer term, which was also affected by strikes, it marks a 38 per cent rise on the 5 per cent seen in the week-commencing September 11.
It is also higher than at the same point last year, when absence sat at around 6.5 per cent. Before Covid, absences of around 4.5 per cent were more common.
Secondary absence reached 8.8 per cent, up from 6.2 per cent, while primary absence hit 5.2 per cent, up from 3.9 per cent. Special school absence also increased from 10.1 per cent to 12.9 per cent.
The DfE said the increase in absence rates this term “appears to be driven primarily by illness absence”.
Authorised sickness absence rose from 2.3 per cent to 4.6 per cent among secondary pupils, from 1.7 per cent to 3 per cent at primary and from 3.1 to 5.9 per cent in special schools.
Some secondary pupils off for ‘other’ reasons
The second biggest reason for absence at secondary level was “unauthorised other absence”, accounting for absences of 2.2 per cent. This is where absence has not been approved by a school, but is not because of lateness or holiday.
The rate of people testing positive for Covid in England has been rising since July. In the week ending September 30, 16,030 people tested positive, an increase of 29.4 per cent on the previous week.
UK Health Security Agency data on outbreaks of acute respiratory infections (which includes both Covid and other illness like flu) shows there were four such incidents in educational settings in the week to September 28. In the week to September 14, there was just one.
Covid absence from schools is no longer recorded and reported separately from other forms of illness.
Schools minister Nick Gibb told parents in August it was “fine to send your child to school with a minor cough or common cold”, but that they should keep them off if they have a fever.