Caution remains watchword despite drop in Covid absence

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

“Last half-term there was a sense that government was simply sitting back and watching Covid numbers rise – we do not want to see that again this half-term.”

Caution remains the watchword despite the half-term break having allowed a dramatic fall in levels of Covid-related absence among staff and pupils.

School leaders had anticipated the positive impact of half-term, but now expect Covid absence to begin rising again between now and Christmas given the lack of willingness from Westminster to change the official school guidance.

The education unions had spent much of last term calling for changes to rules that allow the siblings of pupils who have tested positive to continue attending school. There have also been calls for renewed social distancing in schools and the reintroduction of bubbles.

School leaders are also pleading for more action on ventilation and a faster roll-out of the CO2 monitors.

The latest figures (DfE, 2021) were recorded on November 11 and show that 130,000 pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons – down from 248,000 on October 21. This includes 67,000 pupils with a confirmed case of Covid-19 and 50,000 with a suspected case.

It means attendance in state schools stood at 91.5 per cent on November 11 (93.6 per cent in primary schools and 89.5 per cent in secondaries).

Meanwhile, 1.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent on November 11 – down from 2.1 per cent on October 21. This includes 1.1 per cent with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

And for teaching assistants and other staff, 1.4 per cent were absent on November 11 – down from 1.8 per cent on October 21. This includes one per cent with a confirmed case.

Paul Whitman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It’s important not to over-interpret short-term data, but this does appear to belie the suggestion from some that schools are not playing a key role in Covid transmission.

"The government now needs to do everything possible to make this the start of a downward trend and not merely a blip before cases start to rise again. Last half-term there was a sense that government was simply sitting back and watching Covid numbers rise – we do not want to see that again this half-term.

"Once again we reiterate our calls for better support for schools that need to improve ventilation, a change to the guidance on self-isolation for siblings, and financial support for schools that are struggling with increasing supply costs."

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, added: "The good news is unlikely to last with the current disengagement of government over schools and colleges. This time last year saw the virus raging through schools, and it is essential this does not happen again.

"It is to be hoped that the fall in Covid-related absence is maintained but this can only be ensured through improved mitigation measures in schools if we are to avoid history repeating itself. Several local authorities have recently moved to new arrangements, including social distancing measures, avoidance of large gatherings and the reintroduction of face coverings in secondary schools. These are sensible approaches which can help keep transmission down."

  • DfE: Week 46: Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, November 2021:

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