Low school attendance ‘stubborn concern’ as Covid keeps pupils off, inspectors say

‘Many schools are still working on getting back to pre-pandemic attendance levels,’ Ofsted says

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 16 December 2021 13:54
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<p>A union has previously warned schools were facing ‘severe low attendance'</p>

A union has previously warned schools were facing ‘severe low attendance'

Low attendance “remains a stubborn concern” in schools in England, inspections have found, with much of this absence put down to the Covid pandemic.

In a new report, Ofsted said positive cases, anxiety over the virus and poor mental health was keeping pupils off school.

Its publication comes after government figures estimated 236,000 students did not attend state school in England last week due to confirmed or suspected Covid cases, isolation rules, attendance restrictions and school closures.

Ofsted has accelerated the rate of its school inspections, with the government saying this would give a quicker assessment of how well children are catching up on education after facing disruption.

After carrying out nearly 100 inspections on schools this term, it concluded “many” were “effectively helping children recover from missed learning”.

“Despite positive progress, it is clear from Ofsted’s inspections that low attendance remains a stubborn concern,” it said, adding that schools reported “much of the absence” is for Covid-related reasons.

This included: Covid-related anxiety among parents and pupils, poor mental health due to the pandemic, parents rescheduling holidays, “low resilience due to setbacks or illness” and positive Covid tests.

“Many schools are still working on getting back to pre-pandemic attendance levels,” Ofsted’s report said.

Earlier this week, Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warned some pupils were facing disruption to face-to-face education due to the impact on Covid.

“Listening to the speculation and the news, and certainly the emails I’ve been getting from members, you are getting some pockets of very severe low attendance, partly young people, partly staff,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

“One has emailed me this morning saying 25 per ecent of staff have been off for three weeks. You can imagine if you can’t then get supply teachers that becomes very difficult to maintain the quality of education.”

According to the latest 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.

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