Many schools are finding it difficult to find temporary staff to cover lessons as new figures show 8.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent, while 4.9 per cent were absent because of Covid, in the first week back to school. This is up from 3 per cent on 16 December.
Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Morning show last week, he said that staff absence levels “will increase, no doubt, because now schools are back we’re going to see an increase in infection rates.”
“I have to have contingency plans for 10, 15, 20, 25% absenteeism because Omicron is far more infectious,” he added.
In a survey conducted by the teaching union NASUWT, 46 per cent of teachers say they have been asked to cover lessons for absent colleagues.
Just last month Mr Zahawi called on former teachers to return to classrooms to assist with staff shortages.
Commenting on the new government data, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “A small, but growing, minority of schools are already experiencing teaching staff absences of more than 2 per cent, and the government itself is planning for 2 per cent staff absence rates.
“While schools will do everything they can to manage the situation, there is a reality that needs to be acknowledged here.
“There is no escaping the fact that if a school has a quarter of its workforce off, that will have a significant impact on education.”
The survey by NASUWT also showed that one in four teachers say staff absences because of Covid are having a major impact on their schools.
Teacher absence is slightly higher in primary schools than in secondaries where face masks are now required for pupils in class.
In all state schools, 8.9 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were also absent.
Staff absences will impact schools ability to remain open, particularly in primaries, where there is usually one teacher per class.
Meanwhile, 315,000 (3.9 per cent) pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons, up 14,000 at the end of the last term.
“Today’s figures reflect the huge challenges facing schools and come as we have seen further evidence that increasing numbers of pupils are switching to online learning,” said Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI).
“Teacher absences have increased significantly, while a very large proportion of support staff are now also absent. The acute staff shortages seen in schools are likely to persist for some time due to the high level of infection in the general population.
“The government needs to monitor how schools are responding to shortages and consider whether its workforce fund to help schools cover absent staff goes far enough.”
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