School attendance dip follows rise in strep A cases

Figures from more than 4,000 schools also show absences at the start of December were higher than at the same time last year

Figures from more than 4,000 schools also show absences at the start of December were higher than at the same time last year

8 Dec 2022, 19:17

More from this author


One in ten pupils was off school on Tuesday as the rates for strep A and winter respiratory viruses stepped up, new figures suggest.

Data from more than 4,000 schools also show absences at the start of December were higher than at the same time last year when Omicron was circulating in the UK.

On Wednesday, the Department for Education issued an update to schools, saying it was “closely monitoring” cases of Strep A and scarlet fever.

Thirteen school-age children have died in England since September after developing invasive Strep A, known as iGAS.

There have been 652 recorded cases of iGAS since September, compared with an average of 311 in the same timeframe over the past five years.

Attendance data was shared with Schools Week by the school management information system operator Arbor Education.

It shows that between November 30 and December 6, attendance fell from 90.9 per cent to 89.1 per cent – the lowest since September.

While the 1.8 percentage point fall may seem slight, there are more than nine million pupils in England. Extrapolated nationally, this means 161,101 more pupils off school this week than last.

Data for the same dates in 2021 shows attendance at 91.9 per cent on November 30 and 91.6 per cent on December 6.

On the same date in December 2021, Sajid Javid, the then health secretary, told MPs the highly transmissible Covid variant Omicron was circulating within the community.

Schools ‘watchful’ as strep A cases rise

There is no way to tie absence rates to the rise in Strep A cases, as the reasons for absences were not recorded in the data.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data published on Thursday shows there were 1,062 reported cases of scarlet fever – which is caused by Strep A – in the week beginning November 28, up from 851 in the week before.

A picture of school leader Jonny Uttley

Jonny Uttley, the chief executive of The Educational Alliance trust in Yorkshire said attendance was declining “and talking to other school leaders, everybody’s seeing a fall”.

“We’re just very watchful at the moment. We’re not in emergency planning mode, but we’re conscious we have parents who are worried.”

The Diocese of Ely multi-academy trust (DEMAT) said Strep A and scarlet fever had “affected” some of its schools.

Of its 6,800 pupils, eight have confirmed non-invasive Strep A and five have scarlet fever.

A spokesperson said the trust was revising its infectious disease risk assessments, providing advice to each academy and liaising with local public health bodies.

“Catch it, kill it, bin it” posters were making sure pupils understood the the importance of handwashing, and covering their noses and mouths when they sneezed and coughed, they added.

DfE says healthy children should still attend

Ark Schools said it was “closely monitoring” government guidance on infections, and sharing it with families.

A spokesperson said the trust had “balanced this with a reminder that being in school is critical unless [pupils] are sick”.

This is in line with DfE advice sent to schools this week. It said children with scarlet fever should stay at home until at least 24 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment.

An outbreak is defined as two or more scarlet fever cases within 10 days of each other if the individuals have a link, such as being in the same class.

If schools suspect an outbreak, they should notify their local health protection team, which will investigate.

UKHSA guidance states that in “exceptional” circumstances, such as reports of hospital admissions, an outbreak control team could consider the use of antibiotics as a “blanket prevention measure”.

Antibiotics would then be prescribed to individuals with no signs of illness to prevent any infection developing.

But even if there were confirmed or suspected cases in a school, “there is no reason for children to be kept at home if they are well”, the DfE said.

During an education committee hearing on Wednesday, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said the department was “working closely” with the UKHSA and monitoring a “worrying” situation.

More from this theme


Home education register plan ‘blocked’ from King’s Speech

Top DfE boss suggests long-promised plans for register of children not in school were put forward to become law...

Freddie Whittaker

Failed contractor’s £45 million schools to be demolished and rebuilt

But one of the schools says work will take four years, as ministers take legal advice over recouping costs...

Amy Walker

Overseas teachers exempt from new visa crackdown

Home Office suggests teachers from overseas will not be impacted by £12.5k hike to visa thresholds

Jack Dyson

Schools demand national campaign against abusive parents

More than a third of school staff report receiving verbal abuse from parents

Freddie Whittaker

United Learning trust sued for defamation over investigation report

Former associate head files claim in the High Court

Jack Dyson

Report reveals how top trusts closed ethnicity attainment gap

Diversifying curriculum was one of the successful strategies in government study commissioned after Sewell report

Samantha Booth

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *