The number of secondary pupils self-isolating because of a potential contact with a Covid case in school increased more than five-fold last week as settings welcomed back more older pupils.
Data published by the Department for Education shows 58,400 secondary school pupils were self-isolating due to a potential contact in school last Thursday, up from 10,400 the week before, an increase of 461 per cent.
In primary schools, 66,900 pupils were self-isolating due to a potential in-school contact, up 208 per cent from 21,700 the week before.
Over the same period, overall attendance in state secondary schools increased from around 2.9 million to 3.1 million, while primary attendance fell from 4.3 million to 4.2 million.
Overall, 201,000 pupils in England’s state schools, around 2 per cent of the total pupil population, were off because of Covid on March 18, up from 78,000 on March 11.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said it was “inevitable with schools fully open once again that there will be positive cases and close contacts having to self-isolate in line with Covid protocols”.
“This is evident in the fact that there was a slight increase last week in the proportion of pupils not attending school for Covid-related reasons compared to the previous week. As we have warned previously, this sort of disruption is likely to be a feature of school life for a while to come yet, and we are not out of the woods.”
Of the 201,000 off because of Covid last week, 127,000 were self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid case in school (up from 33,000 the week before), while 42,000 were isolating due to potential contact outside school (up from 31,000).
A further 21,000 pupils were off with a suspected case of Covid, up from 7,000 the week before, and 7,000 were off with a confirmed case, up from 5,000. Another 4,000 pupils were unable to attend because their school was closed due to Covid-19, up from 2,000 the week before. The DfE said just 0.1 per cent of schools were closed on Thursday.
Attendance rates ‘may be impacted by testing’
Secondary schools were told to test returning pupils three times on site in the first fortnight after reopening. The DfE said today that rates of pupil absence due to confirmed cases and self-isolation “may be impacted by levels of testing”.
“This should be taken into consideration when comparing absences between different types of schools.”
Overall, primary attendance stood at 93 per cent last Thursday, down from 95 per cent the week before. Secondary attendance remained at around 89 per cent on March 18, similar to March 15 but up from 81 per cent on March 11.
The DfE said last week that a small number of schools were still phasing the return of pupils at the beginning of the second week back.
Vulnerable pupil attendance lower
The latest attendance data also shows that attendance of vulnerable pupils was lower than the general pupil population.
Just 85 per cent of pupils with an education, health and care plan and 82 per cent of pupils with a social worker were in school on March 18, compared to 91 per cent of all pupils in state schools nationwide.
But a DfE spokesperson said attendance was “now the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic, as students and staff continue to follow the protective measures set out in our guidance to reduce transmission of the virus”.
“While the testing programme continues to gather pace, with millions of tests now being conducted each week, we are only seeing a small increase in the numbers of students testing positive and self-isolating,” they said.
“As secondary students, all school staff, and parents and carers of all children continue testing twice-weekly from home, we encourage everyone to keep playing their part, testing themselves regularly to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
The proportion of teachers and leaders absent due to Covid remained steady at around 1 per cent on March 18, while the proportion of teaching assistants and other staff absent for that reason increased from 1 per cent on March 11 to 2 per cent on March 18.