The number of children out of school for Covid-19 related reasons in England rose to nearly a quarter of a million in the week before half-term, figures show.
The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 3.2% of all pupils – around 248,000 children – were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on October 21.
This was up from around 209,000 children, or 2.6% of all pupils, on October 14.
Regional data shows Covid-19 related pupil absence was highest in the South West of England at 5% on October 21, compared with 1.6% in London.
Among pupils absent for Covid-19 reasons on October 21, the main reason for absence was a confirmed case of coronavirus, Government figures show.
Approximately 127,000 pupils in England were off for this reason, up from around 111,000 a week before, and approximately 87,000 were off with a suspected case, up from around 81,000 on October 14.
About 15,000 were absent due to isolation for other reasons, up from around 11,000 on October 14.
A further 12,000 pupils were off due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak, up from around 5,000, the Government figures show.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “These statistics show another increase in both pupil and staff absence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is wreaking havoc in many schools because they have to juggle online and in-person learning for different groups of pupils at different times with fewer staff. It is an impossible situation.
“We hope that the half-term break will have helped to reduce transmission of the virus and reduce disruption but even if this is the case it is likely to be only temporary.”
Overall pupil attendance has fallen from 90% on October 14 to 88.2% on October 21.
The ASCL is calling on the Government to do more to roll out the vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds and to encourage home-testing among eligible pupils.
Last week, ministers and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) called on young people to take a rapid lateral flow test before the end of half-term to help prevent Covid-19 cases from entering the classroom.
Pupils have also been urged to get vaccinated where possible – either at school or at walk-in centres.
NHS teams are set to visit more than 800 schools across England this week to offer children aged 12 to 15 a coronavirus vaccine.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “These figures show just how bad things got at the end of last term, with both pupil and staff absence at their highest levels so far this year.
“As we enter the second half of the autumn term, school leaders are worried that unless the Government does more, disruption is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”
The NAHT is calling on the Government to accelerate the delivery of CO2 monitors to schools, as well as change the rules so that siblings of children who have tested positive do not attend class until they have received a negative PCR test.
Mr Whiteman added: “A particular concern for school leaders is the ongoing impact of staff absence linked to Covid. We know that schools are finding it increasingly hard to cover staff absence and in many cases they simply cannot afford the cost of so many supply teachers.
“At the very least the Government needs to re-establish the workforce fund that it abandoned last autumn. Without this crucial support there is a real risk that schools will struggle to keep all classes open as we move into the winter months.”
Schoolsminister Robin Walker said: “As we move into the winter months, we are at a pivotal point where every single test and every single jab is vital in reinforcing our defences against the virus and protecting face-to-face education.
“We encourage anyone eligible who hasn’t yet had the vaccine to get it, and all secondary and college students to keep doing their two rapid tests each week and record the results. Alongside the wider protective measures this will help to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe