Covid: 1 in 12 secondary school pupils test positive

ONS data shows rising infection rates among older pupils, as heads warn they are struggling with absences

ONS data shows rising infection rates among older pupils, as heads warn they are struggling with absences

Around one in 12 secondary school pupils are estimated to have tested positive for Covid last week, according to new official data.

It comes as a new survey reveals how pupil and staff absence from schools is causing disruption, which schools struggling to organise cover for missing employees.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics Covid infection survey shows the proportion of pupils in years seven to 11 estimated to have tested positive last week rose to 8.1 per cent, up from 6.9 per cent, or one in 15 pupils the week before.

It means that infections among secondary pupils are now nearing one of the government’s own recommended thresholds for further mitigations in schools.

The Department for Education’s contingency framework suggests schools think about “extra action” if 10 per cent of pupils or staff likely to have mixed closely test positive in any 10-day period.

Daily data published by the ONS suggests infection rates among secondary school pupils could now be as high as one in 11. On October 9, an estimated 8.9 per cent of secondary pupils are estimated to have tested positive.

However the ONS states that caution should be taken in “over-interpreting small movements in positivity day to day”.

Secondary pupils remain the most likely to test positive, followed by primary pupils, at around 3.1 per cent, or around one in 32.

1 in 10 schools report staff absence over 10%

A survey by the ASCL school leadership union also revealed today that around one in 10 schools now have over 10 per cent of staff absent because of Covid.

The poll of more than 560 of its members found that Covid-related staff absence was above 10 per cent in 63 schools. Pupil absence was above this threshold in 93 schools.

Almost all of those surveyed (95 per cent) said teaching and learning this term had been impacted by Covid-related absence, while 31 per cent said the impact was severe.

Schools are also struggling to cover staff absences. Sixty-five per cent of respondents said it was “more difficult than normal” to hire supply staff, while 23 per cent said rates charged by agencies were higher than normal.

The latest official attendance data showed Covid-related absence among pupils had risen to 2.5 per cent as of the end of September. Staff Covid absence was between 1.5 per cent and 1.7 per cent.

But national figures often mask more serious issues at regional and local levels.

Life ‘not back to normal’ in schools

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said life was “most definitely not back to normal in our schools and colleges”.

Covid schools absences
Geoff Barton

“The impact of coronavirus is an everyday reality which continues to cause havoc to the education of children and young people and places leaders and their staff under enormous pressure.”

Barton warned that school budgets were also “taking a hammering because of the cost of hiring supply staff to cover for absence and the government must provide additional funding to help with these costs”.

The survey also revealed delays to the vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds. Schools Week previously revealed that more than two-thirds of schools are still waiting for their Covid vaccinations, despite the rollout starting weeks ago.

Vaccines started in just a third of schools

According to the poll, vaccinations have taken place in 34 per cent of eligible schools so far.

But 25 per cent said the scheduled date for vaccinations had been delayed for “all or some students” beyond the date given by the School Age Immunisation Service.

And 42 per cent said that vaccinations were not scheduled to take place before half term. The NHS initially set a target of offering vaccinations to all children in the eligible age group in the “majority of schools” before half term.

Barton said it was “extremely frustrating that the vaccination programme which offers some hope of salvation is apparently beset with delays and is running behind schedule”.

“We don’t blame healthcare teams for this as we are sure they are working flat out.

“However, it is incredibly remiss of the government not to have ensured that there was sufficient capacity in place to deliver this vital programme at the scale and speed required, and we urge ministers to get a grip of the situation and put the resources in place.”

The Department for Education was approached for comment.

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