The proportion of pupils absent from school because of Covid dropped to 1.5 per cent in mid-September, attendance data shows, but absences due to suspected or confirmed cases remain similar to the end of last term.
Data published today by the Department for Education shows an estimated 59,000 pupils, or 0.7 per cent of the population, were absent on September 16 due to a confirmed case of Covid. Another 45,000, or 0.5 per cent, were off because of a suspected case.
But the figures also show absences due to Covid have been rising since the start of term. On September 7, 46,700 pupils were absent with a confirmed case, while 19,500 were off with a suspected case.
On July 8, the last date of the last academic year for which data is available, 0.6 per cent of pupils were off because of a confirmed case, while 0.5 per cent were off with a suspected case.
However, because pupils who are potential close contacts of confirmed cases no longer need to self-isolate, the overall proportion of Covid-related absences has plummeted. On July 8, this was 14.3 per cent, with more than 770,000 children isolating because of potential contact in school.
Government must be on ‘high alert’ over outbreaks
Paul Whiteman, leader of the NAHT union, said the numbers “reflect the latest changes to government policy”, but said it was “important to note that these national figures mask some significant issues arising at a local level”.
“We already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring.”
The latest Public Health England data shows there were 211 acute respiratory infection (ARI) “incidents” involving Covid reported by education settings in the week ending September 12, up from 108 the previous week.
“It is crucial that both central and local government are now on high alert and are ready to react quickly if and when cases rise rapidly or outbreaks occur,” Whiteman added.
Today’s data shows 99.9 per cent of state schools were open on September 16, and 91.9 per cent of pupils were in attendance.
On September 16, 2,000 pupils were absent because of attendance restrictions put in place to manage an outbreak, less than 0.1 per cent of all pupils. A further 16,000 pupils, or 0.2 per cent, were absent due to isolation “for other reasons”.
The DfE said “fewer than 500” pupils were absent as a result of school closures for Covid reasons.
‘Clear that educational disruption remains significant’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leadership union, said it was “clear from the fact that over 100,000 pupils were absent from school last week with a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus that educational disruption remains significant”.
“We are hearing of schools where significant numbers of pupils are absent.”
He said the government should launch a public information campaign “to encourage twice-weekly home-testing”, provide funding for ventilation systems and “commit to providing more support if on-site testing is directed under the contingency framework”.
Secondary school absence higher than primary
As was often the case in the last academic year, absence levels varied slightly by school phase.
According to the DfE, Covid-related absence was at 1.6 per cent in state secondary schools on September 16, compared to 1.4 per cent in primaries.
Overall attendance was 90.2 per cent in secondary schools, but 93.5 per cent at primary.
Attendance data is only being published fortnightly this term, and from the end of October will only include weekly data, because the DfE plans to stop collecting it daily.