08 Jun ‘Very worrying’ increase in school Covid-related absences before half-term amid Delta variant spread
An estimated 1.8 per cent of England’s state school pupils did not attend school on 27 May, which is the highest figure across the summer term to date, according to government figures.
This was even higher in some known hotspots of the Delta variant, with one third of pupils out of the Bolton secondary schools who replied to the Department for Education (DfE) poll.
“It is very worrying, though not unexpected, that there has been an increase in Covid-related pupil absence in the week before the half term holiday,” Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said.
“We are clearly now seeing the impact of the Delta variant feeding through into these statistics, and this is reflected by the fact that absence is highest in areas that have been worst affected by the variant.”
The union’s general secretary added: “This means that many pupils are having to self-isolate in line with Covid protocols and will be experiencing yet more disruption.”
Meanwhile, Paul Whiteman from the school leaders’ union NAHT said: “Although the number of children not attending school due to Covid is low overall, there has been a distinct rise – and the national figures mask huge regional differences due to the prevalence of the Delta, or Indian, variant in some areas.”
The DfE said Covid-related absences remained “relatively low” in all regions across the first half of the summer term compared to the previous two terms of this academic year, except for in the North West.
The proportion of students off for Covid-related reasons increased across half term in the North West and peaked at four per cent on 27 May, when the latest available data is from in the government statistics.
The DfE said this rise was predominantly down to an increase in cases of Covid-19 in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, which are known hotspots of the Delta variant.
In Bolton, 21 per cent of primary and 31 per cent of secondary school pupils were off school due to Covid-related reasons on 27 May among the schools that replied to the survey.
In Blackburn with Darwen, the figure was 15 per cent for primary schools and 13 per cent for secondary schools.
This compared with 1.6 per cent of primary schools and two per cent of secondary schools nationally on the same date.
The DfE said the total proportion of pupils absent for Covid-related reasons – which includes a confirmed or suspected Covid case or having to self-isolate – rose to 1.8 per cent on 27 May across England following a “period of stability” at around one per cent since the start of the summer term.
The main reason for this type of absence was self-isolation due to coming into contact with a potential case of coronavirus in the school.
On 27 May, 1.1 per cent of pupils in England were off school because of this, compared to 0.8 per cent the week before.
It comes after new data showed the number of outbreaks and clusters at schools have risen in recent weeks, with the vast majority linked to the Delta variant first detected in India.
Pupils self-isolating should receive remote education, the DfE said.
“Over 99.9 per cent of schools remain open, with robust protective measures in place – including regular testing and small group bubbles – to keep classrooms open and staff and pupils safe,” a government spokesperson said.
“We are also taking additional measures in areas with higher prevalence of the Delta variant, including increasing testing for staff, pupils and families, and keeping face coverings where appropriate.”