More than 1m school pupils in England absent last week due to Covid

Official figures reveal 14.3% of children were not in class because of coronavirus-related issues

More than 1 million children in England were out of school last week for Covid-19-related reasons, with absence rates at a record level, government figures have revealed.

As state schools head towards the summer holiday, official figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) showed another huge drop in attendance with approximately one in seven pupils not in school (1.05 million), the highest rates of absence since schools fully reopened in March.

The statistics show that 14.3% of children were not in class last week because of Covid-related issues, up from 11.2% the week before. Secondary schools are again worst hit, with 17.9% of pupils absent compared with 17.5% a week earlier.

The number of schools forced to close entirely as a result of Covid has also gone up, while numbers self-isolating after a contact in school jumped significantly from 624,000 to 774,000. A further 160,000 pupils were self-isolating because of a contact outside school, up from 123,000 a week earlier.

Confirmed Covid cases among pupils jumped from 39,000 to 47,000 in the space of just a week, with a further 34,000 children off with suspected Covid infection and 35,000 absent owing to school closures.

The latest figures, which record attendance for 15 July, were published amid continuing confusion among school leaders over the decision by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation not to offer Covid vaccinations to all students over the age of 12 and the scrapping of isolation bubbles.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned of continuing disruption to education without further measures to prevent transmission in schools.

“Schools have seen another huge drop in attendance as we near the end of term, with much of this absence due to pupils isolating. However, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of confirmed Covid cases in schools,” he said.

“The government’s own modelling predicts that the number of cases among children and young people is only going to get worse by the start of next term. Parents and school leaders will therefore be looking to government to take urgent action to drive down case numbers among school-age children.”

With figures showing almost a quarter of all pupils in England and one in 15 teachers absent from school last week, the National Education Union called on ministers to explain how they would prevent further infections and continuing high levels of absence next term.

Kevin Courtney, the NEU joint general secretary, said: “This outcome was predictable and is a result of the government’s failure to heed warnings, or seemingly to learn any lessons at all over the 16 months of the pandemic.

“The news this week from JCVI that children generally will not be vaccinated means that the government must look all the harder at mitigations that can impede the spread of the virus in schools from September.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called for substantial financial and practical support for on-site asymptomatic testing for students, high-quality air ventilation systems and robust outbreak management plans.

“This work cannot be done on the cheap and the government needs to stop counting the pennies and address the situation with a proper injection of support and funding to allow leaders to prepare properly,” he said.

Labour accused the government of “abandoning the nation’s children” and of failing to take action to turn the tide on rising cases in schools. The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said: “Parents and schools have been crying out for help, but the Conservatives have washed their hands of their responsibility to keep children learning.

“The government must take action to keep children learning for the last week of term, and ensure that by September schools have the support they need to avoid further disruption to children’s education.”

Contributor

Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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