Two thirds of England's secondary schools had pupils self isolating

Two thirds of all England’s secondary schools had at least one pupil self isolating at home due to possible Covid last week

  • Nearly two thirds of secondary schools in England have students self isolating
  • Six to eight per cent of students did not attend school for covid-related reasons
  • A head teachers’ union called on government for a new part-time school ‘rota’

Nearly two thirds of secondary schools in England had at least one pupil self-isolating at home due to potential contact with coronavirus last week, Government figures show.

Pupil attendance in secondary schools has dropped from 87 per cent a week earlier to 83 per cent on November 12, according to the Department for Education (DfE) statistics.

Overall, approximately 6 per cent to 8 per cent of state school pupils did not attend school for coronavirus-related reasons on Thursday last week, the analysis shows. 

One head teachers’ union called on the Government to allow schools to move to a rota system where pupils are taught from home some of the time, adding that the current situation is ‘unsustainable’ as outbreaks disrupt lesson plans.

Pupils socially distance as they walk between classes at Longdendale High School on July 16, 2020 in Hyde, England

Around 29 per cent of schools reported they had one or more pupils self-isolating who had been asked to do so due to potential contact with a Covid-19 case at school, up from 16 per cent the week before.

This is 64 per cent of secondary schools, up from 38 per cent the week before, and 22 per cent of primary schools, up from 11 per cent on November 5.

Overall, pupil attendance dropped from 89 per cent a week earlier to 86 per cent on November 12 – with an absence rate of 14 per cent.

This is three times the average overall student absence rate for the Autumn period of 2019, which stood at 4.93 per cent – including authorised and non-authorised absences.

Kitchen staff wearing PPE face shields serve lunch at Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham, northern England on September 02, 2020

Approximately 83 per cent of secondary school pupils were in classes last week, while attendance in primary schools dropped from 92 per cent to 90 per cent.

The figures come after fears that pupils’ attendance in schools could drop amid the four-week lockdown in England.

Schools, colleges and nurseries can remain open under the restrictions.

On Tuesday, Hull’s director of public health Julia Weldon said more than half of schools in the city have seen closures in some year groups due to coronavirus.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘It is clear that the improvement we saw following the half-term holiday was temporary and that the situation has worsened again very quickly.

‘Disruption is widespread and is happening in an ad hoc manner because of the unpredictability of outbreaks. This makes it very difficult for schools to be able to plan and deliver lessons and catch-up support. This is exacerbated if there are also members of staff having to self-isolate.’

Year 7 students practice social distancing measures at City of London Academy Highgate Hill on September 4, 2020 in London, England

He added: ‘We understand the Government’s desire to keep all pupils in school full-time. But when nearly two-thirds of secondaries are sending home pupils, we have a chaotic rota system by default.

‘Schools need to be given more latitude to move to a planned rota system if they feel that this would be less disruptive, more manageable, and in the best interests of their pupils.

‘It would give them the ability to deliver direct and remote learning around smaller groups rotating between school and home in a planned manner.

‘The Government has to recognise reality. The current situation is unsustainable.’

Last week, a document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said children aged 12-16 played a ‘significantly higher role’ in introducing infection into households in the period after schools reopened their doors to all students in September.

Head of School, Cristina King, demonstrates how children’s belongings are kept sealed in plastic at St Luke’s Church Of England Primary School in London on September 1, 2020

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘We remain particularly concerned about the spread of the virus amongst older pupils and in secondary schools, as the prevalence of the virus has risen significantly in secondary since schools reopened fully.

‘There are worrying signs that older pupils could be playing a role in spreading the virus amongst family members, and this must be watched very closely.’

Between 18 per cent and 20 per cent of schools said they had 30 or more pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of Covid-19 inside the school, up from 8 per cent to 9 per cent on November 5.

About 0.3 per cent of pupils were absent as their school was closed for coronavirus-related reasons, 0.3 per cent were off as they suspected they had Covid-19 and 0.2 per cent were off after testing positive.

A DfE spokeswoman said: ‘Over 99 per cent of schools have been open every week since term began and millions of pupils are continuing to benefit from being in school.

‘The chief medical officer remains of the view that schools should remain open, and has highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children’s learning, development and mental health.’

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