Covid-related absence from schools has halved since the week before half term, but 130,000 pupils were still away from school because of the virus last week, new data suggests.
Department for Education attendance survey data estimates that 1.6 per cent of pupils, 130,000, were off for Covid-related reasons on November 11. This is down from 3.2 per cent, or 248,000 pupils on October 21, the Thursday before the half term break.
Overall, attendance in primary schools rose to 93.6 per cent last week, up from 90.6 per cent before half term. Over the same period, secondary attendance increased from 85.8 per cent to 89.5 per cent.
James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT leaders’ union, warned that the data appeared to show the “half term effect”, with school closures appearing to have had an impact on the number of cases among pupils.
Calls for government action
“It’s important not to over-interpret short-term data, but this does appear to belie the suggestion from some that schools are not playing a key role in Covid transmission.
“The government now needs to do everything possible to make this the start of a downward trend and not merely a blip before cases start to rise again.”
Last Thursday, 67,000 pupils were off with a confirmed case of Covid, down from 127,000 on October 21. A further 50,000 pupils were off with a suspected case, down from 87,000. And 4,000 were absent because of attendance restrictions to manage an outbreak, down from 12,000.
A further 9,000 pupils were absent due to isolation for other reasons, and fewer than 500 were were absent as a result of school closures due to Covid.
1 in 20 secondary pupils positive for Covid
It comes as the latest Office for National Statistics Covid infection survey data showed a large fall in the proportion of secondary-age pupils testing positive for the virus after schools broke up for half term.
Around 4.8 per cent of pupils in school years 7 to 11 are estimated to have tested positive in the week to November 6, equating to around 1 in 20, down from a high of 1 in 11 in the week before half term.
Among pupils aged 2 to school year 6, infection rates remained fairly stable at around 3.8 per cent, or one in 26.
Headline data masks climb in suspected cases
The headline attendance data published by the DfE compares last Thursday with October 21 because no data was collected in half term.
However, underlying data for the last two weeks shows that the number of pupils off with a suspected case has been climbing since pupils returned to school. On November 2, around 41,800 pupils were off with a suspected case.
The number of pupils off with a confirmed case fell from 84,700 on November 2 to 63,600 on November 8, before starting to rise again gradually over the course of last week.
Workforce absence also down
Workforce absence due to Covid has also fallen since half term. Last Thursday, 1.4 per cent of teachers and leaders were absent for that reason, down from 2.1 per cent on October 21.
And 1.4 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were absent due to Covid last week, down from 1.8 per cent before half term.
Geoff Barton, from the ASCL leaders’ union, said it was a “relief to finally see positive progress on school attendance”, but warned the latest figures “indicate we are not out of the woods yet and that the government has more work to do”.
“The natural circuit-breaker afforded by the half-term holiday seems to have had a positive effect on infection rates among both students and school staff, whilst the vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds is also playing its part.”