Coronavirus: School absences at highest level since schools reopened

Annette Rawstrone
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Covid-related absence in schools is at its highest rate since schools reopened in March, the latest Department for Education figures released today [Tuesday] show.

PHOTO Cath Gaunt
PHOTO Cath Gaunt

State-funded primary schools saw absences due to Covid-19 more than double in a week – from 1.1 per cent on 10 June rising to to 2.7 per cent on 17 June.  

The main reason for absence among children in all state schools was self-isolation due to contact with a potential case of coronavirus inside the school.

Absences among staff have also been increasing with an estimated 1.7 per cent of teachers and school leaders in open state-funded schools not attending due to Covid-19 reasons on 17 June, up from 0.7 per cent on 10 June. The numbers of teaching assistants and other staff absent due to Covid has also risen from 0.7 per cent on 10 June to 1.5 per cent this week.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that the new figures are ‘very worrying’.

‘In the week before half-term, almost a third of secondary pupils in Bolton (31 per cent) and over a fifth of primary pupils (21 per cent) were absent for Covid-related reasons,’ she said. ‘We are now seeing the effect of the spreading Delta variant on national figures, and absences from school are only likely to continue rising in the coming weeks, along with obvious disruption to pupils’ education. 

‘The SAGE papers released last week assume that transmission in school can be reduced by 30 per cent with mask wearing and mass testing. We believe it is essential that the Government reintroduce these measures to keep school attendance as near to normal as possible.’

Commenting on the latest data, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, called for the Government to give schools clear instructions about what scenarios they should plan for in September.

‘The further drop in school attendance figures shows the pressure schools continue to operate under when it comes to managing Covid-19 cases,’ he added. ‘Schools are continuing to work incredibly hard to ensure that all the safety arrangements recommended by Government remain in place.

‘However, we can see that case numbers are continuing to rise amongst children and teenagers and so it is essential that local public health teams are given the freedom to react quickly and put additional precautions in place where this is necessary - seeking central government approval for such action only risks delaying the necessary measures being put in place.’

Early years attendance figures, which are now being reported fortnightly, also show lower than usual attendance numbers. It is estimated that 910,000 children attended childcare settings on 10 June, about 56 per cent of the number of children who usually attend childcare in term time.

Due to many children attending early years settings on a part-time basis, the Department for Education said it would not expect all children to be in attendance on the day of the data collection.

It estimates that the 910,000 children currently attending early years settings is approximately 79 per cent of the usual daily level, which on a typical day in the Summer term it would expect attendance to be 1,154,000, due to different patterns of childcare.

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