Covid-19: One in nine pupils out of school in week due to self-isolating

13 July 2021, 17:17

Over 800,000 students had to self-isolate in one week.
Over 800,000 students had to self-isolate in one week. Picture: PA

By Emma Soteriou

One in nine pupils were absent from class in a week due to a surge in self-isolation numbers, official figures have shown.

Over 830,000 students in England were out of school on 8 July, reaching a record high since children returned to classrooms in March.

Figures saw a jump from 8.5 per cent of students isolating on 1 July, which was already an increase on the 5.1 per cent on 24 June.

Out of the absences, around 747,000 were due to possible contact with a positive case of the virus, 35,000 were because of a suspected case and 39,000 were confirmed cases.

Existing rules mean that, if one pupil tests positive, every child in their 'bubble' has to isolate for 10 days. This has resulted in whole cohorts facing essential time off from school.

Read more: Schoolchildren missed out on a third of learning during coronavirus pandemic

Read more: Government must prove scrapping of school bubbles 'isn't political', says teachers union

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said that "urgent action" was required to help drop the numbers.

"Simply changing the rules around self-isolation is not a proper solution," he warned.

"The government must take urgent action to drive down case numbers amongst school-aged children and implement alternative safety measures in key areas such as ventilation.

"A policy of doing nothing and hoping for the best next term not only fails to address the problem, it risks making things worse."

"The government's wider narrative around relaxation of safety measures appears to be at complete odds with the reality in schools right now."

Read more: Schools could open vaccination clinics for teens, SAGE member suggests

This comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson recently announced the end of school bubbles as the country enters its final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown.

Frequent testing will continue when the current system comes to an end, meaning less children will need to isolate.

A Department for Education spokeswoman responded to the government figures, saying: "Our priority is for schools and colleges to deliver face-to-face, high quality education to all pupils as we know that being out of education causes significant harm to educational attainment, life chances, mental and physical health.

"The government has balanced education and health considerations, and from July 19 schools will no longer need to operate a bubble system, while from August 16 pupils will not need to self-isolate should they come into contact with a positive case, in line with the position for wider society.

"We will continue to keep these measures under review, in partnership with health experts and informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice."

Mr Williamson also brought forward proposals for students sitting GCSE and A-Level exams in summer 2022.

Plans suggest children may have advance notice of topics coming up, with more exam aids potentially being introduced.