375,000 pupils absent under Covid school rules

29 June 2021, 12:21 | Updated: 29 June 2021, 14:30

Ministers are planning to change isolation rules for schools in England
Ministers are planning to change isolation rules for schools in England. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

In total, 375,000 children did not attend class last week for a Covid-related reason, new figures from the Department for Education show.

Covid-related pupil absence is at its highest rate since schools reopened in March, with 5.1% of all pupils in state-funded schools absent on 24 June.

It comes as the Government pledged to see if it can scrap quarantine requirements for schoolchildren by introducing daily testing in England.

In addition to the 375,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 24,000 pupils have a suspected case of coronavirus and 15,000 have a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Existing rules mean large groups of students can end up being sent home if one pupil in their bubble tests positive.

It has led to frustration for the pupils, parents and teachers. On Monday, a parent whose son was off for 10 days told LBC the current system was a "disgusting way to treat children" while another said 300 children in his son's school year were sent home after a pupil tested positive for Covid.

On Tuesday, new figures from the Department for Education (DfE) showed that 5.1% of pupils were absent for a Covid-related reason in state schools on June 24, up from 3.3% on 17 June.

In primary schools, 4.5% of pupils were absent for a Covid-related reason on June 24, up from 2.7% on June 17, and 6.2% of secondary school students were away for the same reason, up from 4.2% on June 17. That figure adjusts for the Year 11 – 13s who are off site.

The Government has now confirmed it will consider replacing the need to quarantine with a new approach with testing.

Education minister Nick Gibb told LBC that a trial has been carried out in schools to see if daily testing can replace the need for children to isolate. The trial ends tomorrow and the Government will review the data from it.

"We've conducted the trial to see whether we can implement a different system to avoid having to self isolate because we have to look to make sure that it is effective, we'll take advice on that when the scientists look at all that data," he told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We are provisionally asking secondary schools and colleges to prepare to offer on-site testing when students return for the new academic year, so that schools are ready in case it is needed to keep as many children as possible in face-to-face education.

"We will provide further details about the approach to protective measures and test and trace in education from September in due course."

Read more: 'Children are being blamed': Calls for change to Covid isolation rules in schools

Read more: Welsh schools free to decide own Covid rules from September

Dame Rachel de Souza, the new Children's Commissioner for England, said the current rules were "incredibly frustrating" for teachers and pupils and that lockdown and impacted young people's mental health.

"With bubbles, I think everybody would like it if we could get back to normal, as soon as possible," she told the Telegraph.

"Obviously we have to be safe, and we have to take advice, but it's very very restrictive.

"The experience of lockdown has been a real trauma, and I think we shouldn't underestimate it. Children are really troubled, and it's right across the board."

She added: "They have done a huge amount for us, I mean they really were the least at risk of this and they've given up 19 weeks of their education, they've had all this anxiety and concern and exams cancelled; they've taken a big burden for us.”

She is also worried that nursery age children have been stuck inside when they need to be playing and learning language skills.

Dame Rachel’s comments follow Professor Allyson Pollock’s remarks to LBC’s Nick Ferrari on Monday.

The Clinical Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University said: "What we know is children are not drivers of transmission, I don’t know how many times we want to say that.

"They reflect the community prevalence but they are not key drivers of transmission and they’re being blamed unnecessarily and targeted."

The Welsh Government has announced schools there will be able to make their own choices about Covid measures.