Pupils missed 33 million days of in-person education because of Covid during the autumn term last year, as schools grappled with the second wave of the pandemic after re-opening.
Official figures show the majority – 60 per cent – of pupils saw their schooling affected by the need to self-isolate or shield, often in classes or bubbles, with the average pupil missing five days of school.
Absence rates are typically between 4 per cent and 5 per cent in the first term of the academic year, according to the DfE.
This year the rate stood at 11.7 per cent, or 55 million days, including 7 per cent resulting from Covid self-isolation or shielding.
It also includes a 4.7 per cent absence rate for other reasons, amounting to three days per pupil and 22 million lost school days.
The latest information, based on school census data, shows absences due to illness actually fell year-on-year despite the pandemic, down from 2.8 per cent to 2.5 per cent.
Public Health England analysis suggests cases of flu and other respiratory illnesses have fallen as a by-product of Covid restrictions and precautions. Absences for holidays and medical appointments also fell.
The figures underline the scale of disruption to schooling as Covid infection rates picked up in the UK’s second wave, after strict lockdown restrictions were lifted in most areas over the summer.
Previous DfE data indicated relatively high attendance in the first half of the autumn term.
But rates “fluctuated more widely after half term and generally followed a downward trend, particularly in the final two weeks”, according to a House of Commons research briefing.
Official estimates suggest attendance varied across the country, falling as low as 67.2 per cent in London in mid-December.
The period saw calls grow for school sites to close amid alarm over more infectious Covid-19 variants. The DfE held firm, however, controversially ordering Greenwich council to revoke its request to schools to close early for Christmas.