School attendance has risen to its highest level since June 2021, but many schools are still grappling with high staff absences, new data suggests.
Attendance survey data published by the Department for Education estimates 92.2 per cent of pupils attended state schools last Thursday, up from 90.3 per cent on February 10.
Covid-related pupil absence also fell below 1 per cent for the first time this academic year, with 58,000, or 0.7 per cent of pupils not attending because of the virus on March 3, down from 182,000, or 2.2 per cent, in the week before half term.
But Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, warned the headline figures “can hide big variations locally, and there are some schools and many families and pupils that are still experiencing disruption”.
Staff absence falls, but some schools still disrupted
Although Covid-related absence among staff fell to 1.3 per cent of teachers and leaders and 1.1 per cent of support staff on March 3, over 4 per cent of staff were off for other reasons.
Eleven per cent of schools reported having over 15 per cent of teachers and leaders off on March 3.
Primary schools were much more likely to report high absence, despite having a higher proportion of pupils in.
Primaries reported an overall attendance rate of 95.1 per cent on March 3, while secondary schools had 89 per cent of pupils in.
But Brook warned attendance was “still below where it would usually be for this time of year pre-pandemic”.
“This should remind us that we are not out of the woods yet.”
The overall absence rate in state schools was 4.7 per cent in 2018-19, before the pandemic hit.
Covid absences vary between areas
Regional data published today for the first half term of the year also shows big variation in Covid-related absence. On February 10, 3.1 per cent of pupils were absent due to Covid in the south west, compared to 1.6 per cent in the north west and London.
Absence rates also varied between local authority areas. Primary school Covid absence ranged from 0.7 per cent in Redcar, Oldham and Manchester to 3.7 per cent in Herefordshire and Rutland
Secondary absence ranged from 0.7 per cent in Westminster to 8.9 per cent on the Isle of Wight.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said it “does seem from these latest figures that life is returning to something approaching normal in our schools”.
But he said it was “concerning, however, to note that absence among teachers and school leaders has fallen by a relatively small amount, and that 11 per cent of schools are still reporting an absence level of more than 15 per cent of these staff”.
“These figures show an improvement but the fact remains that the impact of the pandemic is certainly not over.”