The number of pupils missing school due to Covid has more than tripled in just two weeks, and almost one in ten teachers are now absent nationally, new government data suggests.
The Department for Education’s latest attendance survey data estimates that on March 17, 202,000 pupils, or 2.5 per cent of the pupil population, were absent for Covid-related reasons.
This is up from just 58,000 pupils, or 0.7 per cent, on March 3, an increase of almost 250 per cent.
Staff absence rates also rose sharply, but it is now impossible to tell from the data what proportion are off because of Covid due to a change to the DfE’s data collection.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT leaders’ union, said the figures were “absolutely in line with what we have been hearing from our members”.
“Covid cases have been spiking again in many schools over the past week or so – in line with the rising numbers nationally.”
Almost 160k pupils off with positive case
Today’s data confirms a trend reported by Schools Week last week. Data from FFT Education’s attendance tracker, which is now updated more regularly than the DfE data, recorded the first significant rise since late January.
Of the pupils absent for Covid-related reasons last Thursday, 159,000 were estimated to have a confirmed case of Covid, up from 45,000 two weeks before.
Nationally, pupil attendance dell from 92.2 per cent to 89.7 per cent, reversing a trend of rising attendance rates seen previously.
Special schools remain worse-affected than mainstream schools. Attendance in special schools dropped to 83 per cent last Thursday, while secondary attendance was at 87.4 per cent. Primary attendance was at 92 per cent.
Special schools reported a Covid absence rate of 4.3 per cent last week.
Despite higher overall attendance rates in primary schools, Covid absence was actually higher among younger pupils. Last Thursday, 2.7 per cent of primary pupils were absent due to Covid, compared to 2.2 per cent of secondary pupils.
The latest Office for National Statistics infection survey also indicates a more pronounced uptick in the infection rate among primary pupils, which rose to 6.3 per cent in the week to March 12. Infections among secondary pupils remained at around 3.4 per cent.
Almost 1 in 10 teachers off – but data limited
Schools are also grappling with high staff absences.
The DfE estimated that 9.1 per cent of teachers and school leaders and 8.5 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were absent on March 17, up from 5.8 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively on March 3.
However, the DfE has said it no longer collects data on the reasons for staff absence, meaning it is impossible to tell how many staff are off due to Covid and how many are off for other reasons.
The change was introduced on March 7, when schools were also told they no longer needed to report absence data daily.
Again, special schools are worse-affected by staff absence, with 11.3 per cent of teachers and leaders estimated to have been off last week.
1 in 4 schools has over 15% teacher absence
Staffing problems also remain concentrated in some schools. Last Thursday, 23 per cent of state schools said they had more than 15 per cent of teachers and leaders off, up from 11 per cent on March 3.
And 17 per cent of state schools reported teaching assistant and other staff absence of over 15 per cent, up from 6 per cent of schools two weeks before.
Whiteman said many schools were reporting that it was “near impossible to find supply staff to cover and there is no doubt that this level of disruption has a negative impact on pupils”.
He said removing free access to lateral flow tests “at this point feels irresponsible”.
“It will make tracking and controlling Covid almost impossible. There is a lot of anxiety from school leaders about what could happen once tests are unavailable.”