The government will only publish school attendance data every two weeks from September, it has emerged.
It comes as government scientific advisers warned a “high prevalence” of Covid-19 was “highly likely” to be seen in schools by the end of September, and urged the government to “plan for this eventuality”.
Data on pupil attendance and absences due to Covid has been published on a weekly basis during term time since last June.
But the Department for Education has confirmed in its statistical release calendar that the data will now be published fortnightly.
It means the first attendance data of the new school year won’t be released until September 21, almost three weeks into the autumn term. The next publication scheduled after that is on October 3.
The DfE said decisions on the timing and frequency of statistical releases were made by its chief statistician and reflected “user need”.
The decision also reflected the DfE’s expectation of a move “closer to a normal education experience” in the autumn.
The news comes after the government told headteachers it would only collect attendance data weekly from October. At present, schools are required to submit daily data via the educational setting status form during term time.
They will still be required to do so throughout September, and the DfE said the new fortnightly data releases would still include daily data until the end of next month, and then weekly data after that.
‘No clear justification’ for change
But headteachers have questioned the rationale behind the change to a fortnightly release.
James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT, said there “seems to be no clear justification or rationale for government to be only publishing attendance data on a fortnightly basis”, given that schools will still be asked to submit daily data until October and then weekly thereafter.
“With the current concerns about a potential spike in case numbers when schools return, it’s important that the most up to date data is in the public domain particularly as we have seen already how quickly things can change.”
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the ASCL school leaders’ union, said her organisation was “in favour of full transparency about the impact of coronavirus on school attendance, and would prefer the continuation of weekly statistics until a point in time when it is clear that the position is back to normal and this is no longer needed”.
‘High prevalence’ of Covid in schools ‘highly likely’ by end of September
It comes after the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling warned that a “high prevalence” of Covid-19 was “highly likely” to be seen in schools by the end of September.
In a consensus statement on the return to schools published today, the group warned that schools will represent a “high proportion of remaining susceptible individuals and it is highly likely that exponential increases will be seen in school-attending age groups after schools open”.
Weekly data charted impact of Covid on schools
Weekly attendance data publications released by the DfE since last June have charted the impact of schools of several waves of the pandemic, often prompting widespread media reports.
Included in the release were weekly figures for the number of children out of school because of Covid. In mid-July, the data showed that more than a million pupils were absent for that reason, most of them because they were self-isolating because of potential contact in school.
The data is likely to paint a different picture in the next academic year, given that the requirement for close contacts of confirmed cases to self-isolate ended for under-18s and double-vaccinated adults on August 16.
However, leaders are still bracing for disruption, with cases, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid currently on the rise.
According to government statistics, in the last seven days, 238,505 people in the UK have tested positive, up 11.1 per cent on the previous seven-day period. The number of hospital admissions is also up 8.2 per cent, and deaths within 28 days of a positive test are up by 14.2 per cent.
At present, 77.7 per cent of the population aged over 16 have had two vaccine doses.