More than 1 million children in England were out of school last week for Covid-19-related reasons with absence rates at a record level, government figures have revealed.
As state schools head towards the summer holiday, official figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) showed another “huge drop” in attendance with approximately one in seven pupils not in school (1.05 million), the highest rates of absence since schools fully reopened in March.
The statistics show that 14.3% of children were not in class last week because of Covid-related issues, up from 11.2% the week before. Secondary schools are again worst hit, with 17.9% of pupils absent compared with 17.5% a week earlier.
The number of schools forced to close entirely as a result of Covid has also gone up, while numbers self-isolating after a contact in school jumped significantly from 624,000 to 774,000. A further 160,000 pupils were self-isolating because of a contact outside school, up from 123,000 a week earlier.
Confirmed Covid cases among pupils jumped from 39,000 to 47,000 in the space of just a week, with a further 34,000 children off with suspected Covid infection and 35,000 absent owing to school closures.
The latest figures, which record attendance for 15 July, were published amid continuing confusion among school leaders over the decision by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation not to offer Covid vaccinations to all students over the age of 12 and the scrapping of isolation bubbles.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned of continuing disruption to education without further measures to prevent transmission in schools.
“Schools have seen another huge drop in attendance as we near the end of term, with much of this absence due to pupils isolating. However, there has also been a sharp rise in the number of confirmed Covid cases in schools,” he said.
“The government’s reasoning behind removing ‘bubbles’ and school isolation requirements was to reduce disruption to children’s education and stop them missing school.
“But with cases rising we are seeing more and more children actually off sick. Unless some action is taken to prevent transmission in schools, disruption to children’s education looks set to continue.
“The government’s own modelling predicts that the number of cases among children and young people is only going to get worse by the start of next term. Parents and school leaders will therefore be looking to government to take urgent action to drive down case numbers among school-age children.
“They will want to understand the rationale and scientific evidence that underpins the decision not to vaccinate children, and to know what steps the government is taking to implement alternative safety measures in key areas such as ventilation.
“Simply doing nothing and hoping for the best next term not only fails to address the problem, it risks making things worse.”