More than one million children in England out of school last week over Covid-19

More than one million children in England were out of school last week for Covid-19-related reasons, Government figures show.

An estimated 1.05 million state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19-related reasons on July 15, the equivalent of around one in seven (14.3%), according to Department for Education (DfE) statistics.

This is up from 11.2% on July 8 and 8.5% on July 1, and is a new record high since all students returned in March.

Pupils absent from state-funded schools in England for Covid-19 reasons
(PA Graphics)

The figures include 934,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 47,200 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 34,500 with a suspected case of Covid-19.

A further 34,800 pupils were off as a result of school closures due to Covid-related reasons.

The latest figures come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the use of “bubbles” in schools and colleges in England will come to an end as the country eases lockdown restrictions.

Current rules say that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.

But Mr Williamson has said it will be up to individual schools and colleges as to whether they scrap the bubble system this week ahead of the summer holidays, following the move to Step 4 of the road map.

From August 16, children in England will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.

Unions have warned that disruption to children’s education will continue unless the Government takes action to prevent transmission in schools.

Nearly one in four pupils were absent for any reason from state schools in England on July 15, including those for Covid-19-related reasons.

The statistics, which have been adjusted to exclude those year 11-13 students not expected to attend because they are off-site, show that 76.7% of state school pupils were in class on July 15, down from 80.4% on July 8.

In secondary schools, only 67.3% attended class, down from 73.6% on the previous week, while 82.8% of pupils attended primary school, down from 85.1% on July 8.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the Government should take “urgent action” to drive down case numbers among school-age children.

“Parents and school leaders… 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,” he added.

“Simply doing nothing and hoping for the best next term not only fails to address the problem, it risks making things worse.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “These figures bring a year of unprecedented educational disruption to a grim end with Covid-related absences in our schools topping the one-million mark.

“Our schools and colleges now face another set of challenges when students return in September. They need substantial financial and practical support for on-site asymptomatic testing for students, high-quality air ventilation systems and robust outbreak management plans.

“This work cannot be done on the cheap and the government needs to stop counting the pennies and address the situation with a proper injection of support and funding to allow leaders to prepare properly. We simply cannot have this level of disruption to education during the next academic year.”

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Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the Government “must look all the harder at mitigations that can impede the spread of the virus in schools from September”.

A DfE spokesman said: “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.

“As of step 4, schools now no longer need to operate a bubble system, and from 16 August pupils will not need to self-isolate should they come into contact with a positive case, in line with the position for wider society.

“Where children have needed to isolate, they must be offered immediate access to high-quality remote education.”