204,000 pupils absent from England's schools as Covid 'continues to cause havoc'

5 October 2021, 16:13 | Updated: 5 October 2021, 16:20

Heads are reporting "a high level of disruption" in schools
Heads are reporting "a high level of disruption" in schools. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The number of children absent from England’s schools because of Covid-19 has jumped by two thirds in just two weeks.

The Department for Education estimates that 2.5% of all pupils - more than 204,000 children - were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on Thursday last week.

This is up from 122,300 children, or 1.5% of all pupils, on September 16 - a 67% rise.

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The figures come as heads reported "a high level of disruption", with a school leaders' union warning that self-isolation rules are "actively contributing" to the spread of Covid-19 in schools.

Last week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Government would not "stand back and let attendance fall" as education is "simply too important".

But the latest analysis of pupil attendance shows that 89.5% of students were in class on September 30, compared with 91.9% on September 16.

Overall, about 204,300 children were out of class on September 30 for Covid-19 related reasons.

The figures include 102,000 pupils with a confirmed case of Covid-19, up from 59,300 on September 16, and 84,100 with a suspected case, up from 44,600.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the "grim statistics show a big increase in the number of pupils out of school as a result of the continuing havoc caused by coronavirus.

"We are hearing from schools where there are 10% or more of pupils absent and where staff are also off work because of the virus.

"Teaching and learning is very difficult in these circumstances and it is clear that the educational disruption of the past 18 months is far from being over."

Mr Barton has called on the new education secretary to urgently set out what action he intends to take to address the situation.

He added: "One thing he might do is to look at why it is taking so long to deliver the carbon dioxide monitors to schools that the Government promised at the start of term."

Schools in England no longer have to keep pupils in year group "bubbles" to reduce mixing, and children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19.

Instead, they are advised to get a PCR test and only isolate if they test positive.

A recent poll by school leaders' union NAHT suggests nearly four in five (78%) heads lack confidence in the Government's Covid-19 guidance for schools.

More than one in four say they have already exceeded Covid-19 case thresholds set by the Government, and on average, respondents say they have had three members of staff absent due to Covid-19 this term.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "The latest data on case numbers among school-aged children should be ringing alarm bells for Government.

"Put simply, we cannot allow Covid-19 to rage unchecked in schools as it will only lead to more disruption to children's education."