DfE's revamped attendance stats reveal nearly half of secondary schools have pupils self-isolating

Around half of all state-funded secondary schools have pupils self-isolating, with 409,000 pupils not attending school for covid related reasons last week. 

The Department for Education’s weekly attendance data has revealed the true scale of covid disruption for the first time after Schools Week revealed loopholes in its reporting system

Since Monday, October 12, all schools have been asked to provide data on Covid-19 related absences when using the DfE’s daily education setting status form. 

Previously the form had only allowed for partially or fully closed schools to provide such data, prompting concerns thousands of potential pupils could have been missed.

However, in this week’s attendance statistics, the DfE admits it now collects “more comprehensive data on pupils being asked to self isolate”.

From Thursday, October 15, the DfE estimated four to five per cent of pupils, around 409,000, did not attend schools for covid related reasons.

Of these pupils, 0.1 per cent had a confirmed case of coronavirus, while 0.5 per cent had a suspected case of coronavirus. 

Between 3.9 and 4.3 per cent were self-isolating due to contact with a case of coronavirus, but just 0.2 per cent of pupils were in schools closed for covid related reasons.  

The DfE reported more than one in five state-funded schools said they had one or more pupils self-isolating who “who had been asked to do so due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school”.

This accounted for 46 per cent of state-funded secondaries, and 16 per cent of state-funded primaries. However the DfE is no longer publishing the figure for the number of schools that are only partially open because of the pandemic.

But they do now show that around 11 to 13 per cent of schools had more than 30 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school.

In primary schools the average size of the group of pupils self-isolating was around 12 per cent of the total number on roll and was between four to five per cent in secondary schools.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the figures illustrate “the continuing high level of disruption they [schools] are dealing with”.

She added schools “haven’t received enough support from the government”, pointing to the lack of availability of covid tests, the rising costs schools are incurring to deal with the pandemic and difficulty accessing “timely public health advice”.

Overall the proportion of open state schools fell by 0.1 per cent from last week to 99.7 per cent, while attendance in all state schools dropped from 89.8 to 89.2 per cent.

A DfE spokesperson said: “As expected, a small proportion of pupils are self-isolating – but this is similar to previous weeks, and the average group size is small compared to the total number of pupils.”

From Thursday, schools have a legal duty to provide “immediate access to remote education” should pupils miss schools due to coronavirus.