A record high of one in 25 pupils were off school last week with Covid after the number of confirmed cases doubled in just two weeks.
Department for Education attendance survey data estimates that 415,000 pupils (5.1 per cent of the population), were absent for Covid-related reasons on January 20. This is up from 315,000 (3.9 per cent) on January 6, two weeks earlier.
Of those pupils, 322,000 (3.9 per cent) had a confirmed case of Covid, more than double the 159,000 off on January 6. It is the highest number since records began last March.
The rise in absence has nudged overall attendance in state-funded schools to 87.4 per cent, down from 88.6 per cent on January 6.
Primary school attendance fell from 91 per cent on January 6 to 89.1 per cent last week. Secondary school attendance remained at 85.9 per cent.
Special school attendance also fell, from 82 per cent to 78.4 per cent, while attendance in alternative provision dropped from 53.9 per cent to 50.8 per cent.
Staff absence continues to rise
The proportion of staff absent also rose last week, though the number off because of Covid actually fell slightly.
On January 20, 47,000 teachers and school leaders (9 per cent) were absent, up from 44,000 (8.6 per cent) on January 6.
But only around half of those off – around 23,500 (4.5 per cent) – were off due to Covid, down from 4.9 per cent two weeks before.
Teaching assistant and other staff absence followed the same trend. Overall, absence rose from 62,000 (8.9 per cent) to 67,000 (9.4 per cent). But the proportion off for Covid-related reasons fell from 5 per cent to 4.7 per cent.
1 in 4 schools has more than 15% of teachers off
But the data suggests rather than widespread, smaller disruption – absences are disproportionately focused in some schools.
Nearly a quarter of state schools said they had more than 15 per cent of teachers and leaders absent last week, up from 18 per cent on January 13, and just 8 per cent at the start of the academic year.
Thirty-six per cent of state schools had up to 5 per cent of teachers and leaders absent, down from 44 per cent on January 13 and 65 per cent on September 16.
A similar trend was seen for support staff.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leadership union, said schools were “struggling to keep things running” due to staff absences, and warned that schools were still “very much in the eye of the Covid storm”.
“Our members are repeatedly telling us that they are having to drop everything to find cover and that just keeping things going is a challenge.”
School leaders also told MPs on the education committee this morning that they were struggling with supply.
John Blaney, executive headteacher of BMAT, said it had been “nigh on impossible to get supply teachers into schools because there is a national issue around supply teachers”.
Jill Thompson, headteacher of Kelvin Grove Primary School, said her school was “routinely contacting five different agencies and we are not able to get anybody”.