Trusts quizzed over Covid cases in 'urgent commission' for education secretary

Academy trusts are being questioned over their protocols for managing Covid cases as part of an “urgent commission” for the education secretary, as the Department for Education (DfE) scrambles to understand a hike in children missing school.

New figures have revealed the number of pupils at home self-isolating last week had nearly doubled within the space of seven days to over 550,000 pupils.

Today and yesterday chief executives at trusts across the country received questionnaires from their regional schools commissioners’ office requesting information on Covid protocols – with responses requested by close of play today (Thursday).

The letters, seen by Schools Week, state that since the number of pupils self-isolating has “increased significantly since half-term, there is an urgent need to better understand the experience of schools trying to manage instances of positive Covid-19 cases in their schools”.

One school leader who received the email said: “Why on earth have we been given just a couple of hours to turn around these answers? Some trusts have scores of schools and thousands of pupils. It’s just bizarre.”

Trusts are being asked “the most important thing” it has learnt on managing bubble discipline and reducing the instances of pupils self-isolating.

They are also quizzed on where schools within the trusts are “primarily taking their health advice from” – the DfE helpline, local authorities, or neither.

Furthermore, the department also wants to know more about the procedures schools are putting in place to reduce the numbers of pupils being isolated – with options such as reducing bubble sizes and using CCTV to identify close contacts.

Trusts are also being asked what additional support their schools may require to “reduce the number of isolating pupils”.

One RSC office caveated the request for information by stating if the trust didn’t have time to answer that was fine as they did not want to “cause additional pressure”.

Pupil attendance data published on Tuesday showed the number of pupils self isolating has now roughly doubled from between 3.2 to 3.7 per cent in the week after half term, up to between 5.8 to 6.7 per cent last week – meaning up to 552,000 pupils were not in school.

Overall attendance fell from 89.3 per cent to 86.5 per cent last week – the lowest since schools reopened.

The questionnaires also requested trusts to identify patterns “in terms of sizes of pupils isolating” as the “average bubble sizes per confirmed case seems to have increased recently”.

The average number of pupils isolating per confirmed Covid case increased from 17 pupils on November 5, to 28 on November 12.