Nearly half of secondary schools in England have pupils at home self-isolating

Around one in seven secondary school students were absent from class last week, figures suggest.

Children in class at Arbours Primary Academy in Northampton. Many primary school pupils had little to no contact with their friends during the five-month period before schools fully reopened, a Government report suggests (Joe Giddens/PA)
Children in class at Arbours Primary Academy in Northampton. Many primary school pupils had little to no contact with their friends during the five-month period before schools fully reopened, a Government report suggests (Joe Giddens/PA)

Pupil attendance in class has fallen as nearly half of secondary schools sent home one or more students because of Covid-19, Government figures show.

Around 86% of secondary school pupils in England were in school last week compared to 87%, the Department for Education (DfE) statistics suggest.

Overall, 89% of students on roll in state schools, both secondary and primary, were in attendance on October 15, down from 90% a week earlier.

More than a fifth (21%) of schools said they had one or more pupils self-isolating who had been asked to do so due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school.

This is 46% of secondary schools and 16% of primary schools.

Around 11% to 13% of schools said they had more than 30 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of Covid-19 inside the school.

The DfE estimates that up to 412,000 (4 to 5%) of pupils did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on October 15.

The majority (up to 355,000) were self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.

Around 8,000 pupils (0.1%) were off after testing positive for Covid-19, 12,000 (0.2%) were absent as their school was closed for Covid-19 related reasons, and 37,000 (0.5%) were off as they suspected they had coronavirus.

The DfE has changed its methodology for reporting attendance which means the number of schools “not fully open” is no longer included in the data.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The fact that nearly half of secondary schools have recorded one or more pupils self-isolating due to the protocols necessitated by the Covid pandemic, illustrates the continuing high level of disruption they are dealing with.”

She added: “There have been far too many occasions when schools have experienced difficulty in accessing timely and useful advice, and the Government hasn’t lived up to its promise.”

Ms McCulloch said heads have reported receiving “patchy support” from a DfE helpline set up to provide advice in the event of positive Covid cases.

She said: “Incredibly, schools and colleges reporting a second or subsequent case were being told that they needn’t ‘bother’ phoning the helpline again, as they ‘already know what to do’.

“This line has apparently now been removed from the script used by call handlers, but the fact it was there at all isn’t helpful.”

The National Education Union (NEU), which has recommended a two-week circuit-breaker over half-term, has called for action to prevent “the situation escalating even more out of control.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Increasing numbers of pupils and whole year bubbles having to isolate is causing a great deal of disruption to children and young people’s education and is making the Government’s decision to stick to end of year GCSE and A-level examinations, with the only change being a three-week delay ever more untenable.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Over 99% of schools have been open every week since term began, with over 7.3 million pupils attending last week to learn from brilliant teachers and spend time with friends.

“As expected, a small proportion of pupils are self-isolating but this is similar to previous weeks, and the average group size is small compared to the total number of pupils.

“From their first day self-isolating, schools are expected to provide pupils with remote education, which is in line with what they receive in school so they do not fall behind.”

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