More than 1.1m pupils missed class due to Covid at end of summer term

More than 1.1 million pupils were forced to miss class due to coronavirus at the end of the summer term as absence levels hit a record high.

New figures show 1.126 million children were out of school in England on Friday July 16, compared with 859,000 on Friday July 9.

Some 994,000 children were self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 48,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 33,300 with a suspected case.

A further 50,700 pupils were off as a result of school closures for other Covid-related reasons.

School bubbles have now been scrapped for the autumn term after rules ordering children to self isolate if a classmate tests positive triggered rocketing absence rates.

Record numbers of children were out of school for Covid-related reasons at the end of term (file photo)
Record numbers of children were out of school for Covid-related reasons at the end of term (file photo)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it was up to individual schools and colleges whether they scrapped the bubble system ahead of the summer holidays, following the move to step four of the road map.

From August 16, children in England will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive.

A study released last week found that daily testing of pupils who have been in contact with someone with Covid-19, rather than isolating whole groups, may be just as effective in controlling transmission in secondary schools.

Researchers at the University of Oxford estimated that daily Covid-19 testing in schools – as an alternative to the 10-day contact isolation policy – can reduce coronavirus-related school absences by 39%.

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Pupils in the North East were most likely to be out of school according to separate figures from June 10 to July 15.

One in four (26.5%) children were out of school in the region on July 15, while London had the lowest (9.6%).

The North East also had the highest staff absences on July 15, with 11.1% of teachers and school leaders – and 11% teaching assistants or other staff – absent for Covid-related reasons.

This compares with 6.6% of teachers and school leaders – and 6.4% teaching assistants or other staff – absent for Covid-reasons nationally on July 15.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is clear that this level of disruption cannot continue next year.

“However, the Government needs to address the root cause of the problem, and not just the symptoms.

“Removing the requirement for close contacts to automatically self-isolate will no doubt reduce absence figures, but it is important the Government does more to actively reduce case numbers amongst children and transmission in schools.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “The Government must learn from their sorry record this term.

“They must move now to announce what mitigations will be in place for September around mass testing, improvements to ventilation and testing of close contacts of children who have Covid.

“The absence of a Plan A, let alone a Plan B, is rightly alarming to school and college leaders and their staff.”

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A DfE spokeswoman said: “Where children needed to isolate last term, schools were required to offer immediate access to high-quality remote education.

“As of step 4, schools no longer need to operate a bubble system, and 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.”



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