Deprived state schools most impacted by Covid staff absences

Katy Morton
Friday, January 14, 2022

New findings reveal that the most deprived state schools were almost three times more likely than private schools to report that one in 10 or more of their staff were absent due to coronavirus.

The Sutton Trust research finds that state schools and those in deprived areas are hardest hit by staff absences due to coronavirus PHOTO Adobe Stock
The Sutton Trust research finds that state schools and those in deprived areas are hardest hit by staff absences due to coronavirus PHOTO Adobe Stock

Data from the Sutton Trust’s survey app -  Teacher Tapp - reveal that state schools are being more heavily impacted by Covid-related staff absences than private schools.

According to the survey of up to 6,964 teachers in England, carried out between 7 and 10 January, state school teachers are almost twice as likely to report that one in 10 or more of their colleagues are absent due to Covid.

Staff absences were even more pronounced in the most deprived state schools, which were almost three times more likely than private schools to report that one in 10 or more of their staff were absent. The Sutton Trust says the findings further highlight the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the most disadvantaged children.

The research also highlights differences in staff absences by region, with schools in the North West reporting the highest levels of absences, followed by Yorkshire and the North East.

According to the findings, across the country, roughly 4 per cent of teachers were isolating due to Covid this Monday (10 January).

Teachers were also asked about other issues caused by the current wave of the pandemic. The most common issues raised by state schools was non-teaching staff having to cover lessons due to staff absences (28 per cent). Almost one in 10 (8 per cent) teachers said that more than one class was being taught together due to staff shortages. A similar proportion said that staff were unable to come in due to lack of access to lateral flow or PCR tests, with access to adequate tests more of an issue in the most deprived state schools.

The survey also highlights that many state schools, in particular those in deprived areas, are struggling to access devices for pupils who need them for remote learning.

The Sutton Trust is calling on the Government to ‘urgently’ ensure that all pupils have access to a device for remote learning and that schools have adequate funding to pay for cover for absent staff.

It also wants a more comprehensive education recovery plan put in place, with support targeted at disadvantaged pupils who have been hit hardest by the pandemic to ensure attainment gaps don’t widen further.

'Disruption is continuing with schools heavily impacted by Covid related staff absences'

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said, ‘While most children are now back at school, disruption is continuing with schools heavily impacted by covid related staff absences.

‘We must do all we can to ensure that poorer pupils are not further disadvantaged as a result of this disruption.’

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said, ‘This report is further evidence that pupils from more deprived backgrounds are being hit hardest by coronavirus.

‘It also makes abundantly clear that the Department for Education is paying no heed to the issues that are facing the most disadvantaged pupils, which teachers, support staff and school leaders have been highlighting throughout the pandemic.

‘They had no real strategy for schools during Covid and continue to have an inadequate approach to education recovery.   

‘This is not a decisive Government. It must give schools the equipment they need to ensure proper ventilation in schools and colleges in an attempt to keep Covid infection down. Every classroom that needs an air purifier should be supplied with one to ensure staff and pupils’ health and keep absences as low as possible. It simply isn’t good enough to rely on a workforce of retired teachers appearing from thin air.’

Stephen Morgan MP, Labour's shadow schools minister, said, 'The Government’s ongoing failure to get ahead of the virus is causing more disruption in schools and threatens to widen existing inequalities for the children who have already been hardest hit by the pandemic.

'Vaccination, ventilation, and testing are key to ensuring pupils and staff can continue to learn together in this new term, but once again our children are an afterthought for the Conservatives.

'The Government must act now to get ahead of the virus and ensure no children are being left behind.'

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'School staff are working tirelessly to ensure classrooms are safe, and it is thanks to their efforts that 99.9 per cent of schools are open once again and millions of pupils have returned to face-to-face learning after the Christmas break.

'We are supporting schools through encouraging former teachers to come back to classrooms and extending the Covid workforce fund for schools that are facing the greatest staffing and funding pressures.

'We’ve also asked schools to have contingency plans to maximise attendance and minimise disruption to learning, should they have high rates of staff absence, and are working with the sector to share case studies of flexible learning models to support the development of those plans.'

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