Covid disruption to schools ‘far from over’ as 236,000 pupils off due to virus

Tuesday 14 December 2021 17:11
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<p>More than 236,000 children in England were off school in early December due to Covid-related reasons, government figures show</p>

More than 236,000 children in England were off school in early December due to Covid-related reasons, government figures show

An estimated 236,000 pupils were off school in England last week due to Covid-related reasons, according to new figures which experts say show disruption to education is “far from over”.

Most of these did not attend school last Thursday due to a confirmed or suspected Covid case, with 109,000 pupils having tested positive and 91,000 fearing they were infected.

One education union leader said he was concerned the data was “already out-of-date” with the situation escalating since last week.

According to the government figures, 2.9 per cent of England’s state school pupils - around 236,000, did not go to school on 9 December - up from 2.6 per cent, or 208,000, two weeks before.

While 200,000 of these were off with a confirmed or suspected Covid infection, thousands more were at home due to schools restricting attendance to manage an outbreak, school closures linked to Covid and isolation.

The Department for Education also estimated 2.4 per cent of teachers were not in school last Thursday due to a Covid-related reason - up from two per cent on 25 November.

Most of these - making up 1.7 per cent of teachers and school leaders in England - were absent from open schools due to a confirmed case of Covid.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “This latest increase in Covid-related absences comes as no real surprise given the current situation nationally.

“However, our concern is that this data is already out of date and actually underestimates the scale of the issue schools are currently dealing with.”

He added: “Over the last few days we have heard from our members that there has been a significant jump in Covid cases in schools, amongst both staff and pupils, as the new variant has started to spread.

“Some have told us that this has been the hardest term of the whole pandemic.”

Meanwhile Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) also said the latest figures came as “no surprise”.

“The situation has clearly been deteriorating through the course of this half term with many schools and colleges experiencing huge disruption,” the union leader said.

“The omicron variant threatens to unleash even more difficulties.”

The union’s general secretary said the Christmas holidays would provide a “firebreak” but there was” little doubt that the spring term will be challenging”.

Natalie Perera, the chief executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) thinktank, said the attendance figures show “disruption to education caused by Covid is far from over”.

“What these figures won’t show is the highly localised picture and the huge differences from school-to-school,” she said. “Some schools will have been able to continue as normal, while others will have already switched to remote learning.”

Downing Street said at the weekend schools should not be closing early for Christmas unless they have been told it is “necessary” on public health grounds.

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