Zahawi: Teacher absences will see bumpy two weeks for schools as pupils return

The Education Secretary has said there is no doubt staff absence levels will rise in schools as pupils return and that the next two weeks will be “bumpy”.

However, Nadhim Zahawi said contingency plans will be in place for much higher levels of staff absence than are currently being recorded and that he is committed to GCSE and A-level exams going ahead.

The Education Secretary told BBC’s Sunday Morning show that staff absence levels were around 8.5% last week but “will increase, no doubt, because now schools are back we’re going to see an increase in infection rates”.

Mr Zahawi said he was making contingency plans for rising rates of staff being off, saying some schools have had up to 40% absent but remained open.

“I have to have contingency plans for 10, 15, 20, 25% absenteeism because Omicron is far more infectious,” he added.

He said the next two weeks will be “bumpy” with rising staff absence rates.

On exams, the Education Secretary said: “My absolute commitment is that exams are going ahead both this January and for the summer, for GCSEs and A-levels, but we’re putting in mitigations to make sure that we recognise who have had their education disruption.”

Meanwhile, the headteachers’ union NAHT said it conducted a poll which showed 36% of school leaders – mostly primary head teachers – had more than 10% of their total staff absent on the first day of term due to Covid.

The union said its poll found almost one in 10 school leaders had more than 20% of their teaching staff absent.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “Schools are doing everything they can to maintain education for pupils in the face of very challenging circumstances.

“Staff absence on the first day of term was considerable and could very likely rise as the term progresses.”