Attendance plummets as more pupils forced to self-isolate

School attendance has plummeted to 86 per cent due to Covid-related absences, with over half of state-funded secondary schools now reporting pupils self-isolating.

The Department for Education’s weekly attendance data has revealed the increasing disruption Covid-19 is wreaking on schools, with around 160,000 more pupils off school last Thursday, compared with the same time the previous week.

It reports following a “period of stability” which saw school attendance remain between 89 and 90 per cent since the start of October.

The data shows that as of Thursday, 26 per cent of state-funded schools had “one or more pupils self-isolating who had been asked to do so due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school”. This is up from 21 per cent last week.

The proportion of secondary schools reporting that one or more pupils were self-isolating rose from 46 per cent to 55 per cent, while at primary the figure rose from 16 to 20 per cent.

The fall in overall attendance has been driven by a drop in attendance at secondary schools, now down to 82 per cent from 87 per cent the previous week. Attendance at primary schools meanwhile was 90 per cent, down from 92 per cent.

Some schools were on half term last week, but the DfE excluded those schools from its analysis, and reported that the drop “reflects a national-level decrease unrelated to half-term” and is “largely due to an increase in Covid-19 related absence”.

The DfE estimated six to seven per cent of pupils in state-funded schools did not attend school on October 22 for Covid-related reasons.

This means around 573,300 pupils were absent, compared with 409,000 the previous week.

Of all pupils, 0.4 per cent were off with a suspected case of coronavirus while 0.1 per cent were off with a confirmed case.

Between 4.6 and 6 per cent of pupils were self-isolating due to potential contact with a Covid case, and 0.7 per cent of pupils were attending schools which closed for Covid-related reasons.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the analysis “paints a grim picture of the increasingly challenging situation facing schools with attendance falling amidst rising Covid infection rates”.

“With the majority of schools in England on half term this week, there is now a short pause while school leaders and staff brace themselves for what is clearly going to be an even more difficult half term ahead.”

It comes as the BBC reported that schools in northern England have been most disrupted by Covid, with a third of confirmed teacher cases, 710, occurring in the north-west.

Last week school leaders in lockdown areas warned their pupils could be penalised during next summer’s exams as the constant Covid disruption creates a more “diminished learning experience compared with schools in less affected areas.

A DfE spokesperson said: “As we would expect, some pupils are self-isolating in line with public health advice, but the average size of those groups is relatively small compared to the total number of pupils on roll.”