The number of primary school pupils absent because of a suspected Covid case increased by over 60 per cent last week, according to government attendance survey data.
However, only around 1 per cent of pupils nationally were off for Covid-related reasons nationally last week.
The latest statistics published by the Department for Education show that 13,400 state primary pupils were absent on May 5 because of a suspected infection, up from 8,200 on April 29. The number of secondary pupils off for that reason also rose from 3,000 to 3,300.
However, the number of pupils nationally isolating because of potential contact with a case in school, which is the main Covid-related reason for absence, actually fell from 46,900 on April 29 to 42,800 last Wednesday.
Primary schools reopened more widely on March 8, with secondary schools given a week’s grace period in which to start on-site testing.
Attendance rates initially fell during March as more and more pupils were sent home to isolate, but data released after the Easter holidays showed how primary attendance had recovered to pre-pandemic levels after the Easter break.
Overall, attendance in state funded schools was 92.3 per cent on May 5, down slightly from 92.9 per cent on April 29. Primary school attendance dropped slightly from 95.5 per cent to 94.9 per cent, while secondary attendance fell from 90.2 per cent to 89.5 per cent, and special school attendance dropped from 87.7 per cent to 87.3 per cent.
The DfE said only around 1 per cent of pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons on May 5, similar to the the previous week and far less than the end of last term.
Around 0.5 per cent of school staff were absent due to Covid on May 5, similar to the figure for April 29.
It comes after the latest Office for National Statistics infection survey showed rates among school-aged children continued to fall during the latter part of April and in early May.
However, in a consensus statement published last Friday, the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group highlighted the “importance of maintaining current mitigation measures in schools, such as testing and mask wearing, in the coming months”.
Despite this, the government confirmed yesterday that it will lift the recommendation that masks be worn in secondary classrooms and by pupils in communal areas from Monday.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union, said the small decline in attendance “shows that we are far from out of the woods yet when it comes to the pandemic and disruption to school life”.
“The fact that we have seen a growing number of pupils needing to self-isolate raises further questions about the government’s apparent willingness to ignore the advice from scientists, including SAGE, when it comes to face coverings.”