Schools are sending year groups home and “tripling up” classes in dining halls as up to a third of their staff test positive for Covid.
Senior leaders are also taking on extra teaching and cleaning duties to keep schools open.
It comes as the government slashes precautions under plans to “live with Covid”.
But data from the FFT Education attendance tracker shows pupil absence increased to 10.4 per cent in secondary schools last week, up from 9.7 per cent the week before. Absences in primaries rose to 7.5 per cent, up from 7.2 per cent.
‘This is the worst we’ve seen’
Pepe Di’Iasio, the headteacher of Wales High School in Rotherham, said staff absences were the “worst we’ve seen, in terms of actual numbers off”.
Di’Iasio, who is also president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it was the “number one issue” school leaders reported as they struggled to secure specialist cover for exam years.
Wales High School has 25 teachers off – 10 per cent of its workforce.
Department for Education (DfE) attendance survey data, released last week, estimates that about one in ten teachers were absent on March 17.
The twice monthly data no longer reveals how many are off because of Covid.
Martyn Oliver, the chief executive at Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said cases among staff were “exceptionally high” across his 38 schools.
Last week Covid absence reached its second highest rate with 146 staff absent. The rate was only higher in the week of January 17, when 215 tested positive.
“A significant number of schools have 20 or more staff off – in some cases this equates to a third of teachers,” Oliver said.
Last month the lack of staff forced eight year groups across the trust to learn from home.
Covid causes partial closures and tripling-up classes
Simon Elliott, the chief executive at Community Schools Trust, reported some of his schools were missing a third of staff and access to supply teachers “was suddenly very difficult again”.
The trust “block-booked” cover for future weeks in a bid to mitigate expected absences.
Stephen Chamberlain, the chief executive at Active Learning Trust, said “35 per cent or more” of classes in some of his schools were covered by supply teachers.
In a bid to provide continuity for exam groups, he has been teaching GCSE English four days a week at one school since the beginning of term.
Oliver said his staff were going to “extraordinary lengths”, including taking on cleaning duties.
“The pressure not to shut again is unbelievable.”
Di’Iasio added that his school was “tripling up” classes in dining halls to ensure exam year groups had specialist teachers.
The FFT Education attendance tracker revealed pupil absence rates were highest among secondary schools in the south west, where 12.8 per cent of pupils were off.
DfE scales back Covid measures in schools
It comes after the government further rolled back Covid measures in schools.
The DfE announced this week that school pupils will only be advised to self-isolate for three days if they test positive for Covid-19 from Friday.
However, parents are being advised to keep children who are unwell with a high temperature at home until they get better.
The government has also confirmed that schools will no longer be able to order free lateral-flow test kits, after announcing an end to weekly testing for special school and alternative provision pupils and staff.