Covid

Poorer pupils missed almost 30 per cent more school days due to Covid in the autumn than their better-off counterparts, new data shows.

The Department for Education has updated absences data for the autumn term with statistics broken down by pupil characteristics.

It shows pupils eligible for free school meals missed 8.5 per cent of sessions in circumstances related to Covid.

In comparison, pupils not eligible for free school meals missed 6.6 per cent of sessions for the same reason, a difference of 28.8 per cent. There are two sessions in each school day.

The figures are likely to add to fears the pandemic has exacerbated existing gaps between poorer and better-off pupils.

In autumn 2019, before the pandemic hit, pupils eligible for free school meals had an overall absence rate of 7.6 per cent, compared to 4.3 per cent among those not eligible.

The data shows pupils with special educational needs were also more likely to be absent due to Covid in the autumn.

Pupils with an education, health and care plan missed 8.6 per cent of sessions, while those receiving SEN support missed 7.4 per cent of sessions. This compares to 6.8 per cent of sessions missed by those with no SEN.

Again, pupils with EHC plans and SEN support normally have a higher absence rate in the autumn term than those without.

Gypsy/Roma and Pakistani ethnic groups worst affected

The data also breaks down absence rates by ethnic group, and shows Gypsy/Roma pupils missed 10.9 per cent of sessions due to Covid in the autumn, while Pakistani pupils missed 10.8 per cent.

This is compared to 7 per cent of sessions missed by all pupils. The lowest absence rates were among Chinese pupils, at 6.1 per cent of sessions.

Pupils in years 10 and 11 were almost twice as likely to miss school because of Covid than younger pupils.

Both year groups missed around 10 per cent of sessions in the autumn term, compared to 5.4 per cent of sessions missed by year 3, and 5.5 per cent of sessions missed by years 1, 2 and 4.

Again, this reflects patterns seen in normal years. In autumn 2019, years 10 and 11 had the highest absence rates, while years 3 and 4 had the lowest.