From education to employment

Covid-related absence in schools rising

empty seats

A summary of attendance in education settings for the 2021/22 academic year by the Government, excluding out of term dates as data is not collected. The data covers England only. 

Open Rates

  • 99.9% all state-funded schools were open on 17 Mar 2022, same on 3 Mar 2022.

Pupil absence

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) related pupil absence in all state-funded schools was 2.5% on 17 Mar, up from 0.7% on 3 Mar.
  • Among pupils absent for COVID-19 reasons, the main reasons for absence on 17 Mar were: pupils with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (2.0%), and pupils with a suspected case of COVID-19 (0.2%).

Pupil on site attendance 

  • Attendance in all state-funded schools was 89.7% on 17 Mar, down from 92.2% on 3 Mar. 

Workforce absence

  • We estimate that 9.1% of teachers and school leaders were absent for any reason from open schools on 17 Mar, up from 5.8% on 3 Mar.
  • We estimate that 8.5% of teaching assistants and other staff were absent for any reason from open schools on 17 Mar, up from 5.4% on 3 Mar.

Levels of workforce absence in education settings

Teachers and school leaders

  • 23% of all state-funded schools had more than 15% of their teachers and school leaders absent for any reason on 17 Mar, up from 11% on 3 Mar. 
  • 37% of all state-funded schools had up to 5% of their teachers and school leaders absent for any reason on 17 Mar, down from 57% on 3 Mar.

Teaching assistants and other staff

  • 17% of all state-funded schools had more than 15% of their teaching assistants and other staff absent for any reason on 17 Mar, up from 6% on 3 Mar.
  • 35% of all state-funded schools had up to 5% of their teaching assistants and other staff absent for any reason on 17 Mar, down from 55% on 3 Mar.

Sector Response

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“These figures are absolutely in line with what we have been hearing from our members. Covid cases have been spiking again in many schools over the past week or so – in line with the rising numbers nationally.

“Staff absence is once again a big concern – this data shows nearly 1 in 10 teachers and school leaders absent, which is as bad as the very start of term. Many schools are reporting that it is near impossible to find supply staff to cover and there is no doubt that this level of disruption has a negative impact on pupils. Right now, many school leaders are facing a huge challenge when it comes to maintaining educational provision.

“The government urgently needs to remind people that just because the legal requirement to isolate has been removed, there is still a duty to take appropriate action to reduce the spread of Covid – just like any other illness. Parents need to be clear on when they can send their children to school and when they need to stay at home.

“Removing free access to lateral flow tests at this point feels irresponsible. It will make tracking and controlling Covid almost impossible. There is a lot of anxiety from school leaders about what could happen once tests are unavailable.

“The government cannot just let Covid rip through schools. Learners need and deserve better than that. Covid hasn’t gone away and we need a proper plan for how to live with it long-term that is focused on keeping levels low and reducing disruption.

“With exams looming for many students this is a very worrying time. Many schools are still finishing teaching the specifications as there has been so much disruption over the two years of exam courses – it is getting very tight for time already for teacher led revision and exam preparation work. More disruption now could be seriously damaging to pupils’ exam chances and education recovery.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“These statistics chime with what we are hearing from schools. Once again many are seeing very severe disruption caused by Covid with high levels of both pupil and staff absence.

“The improvement in the picture we saw in the national data in early March has proved to be a false dawn unfortunately.

“Worryingly, this latest wave of disruption comes as students are preparing for exams in GCSEs, A-levels and other important qualifications. It is an extremely challenging situation.

“It is very clear that the government must as an absolute minimum continue to make available free Covid testing for education settings after 1 April, and that it must extend and simplify financial assistance for the cost of supply cover beyond the end of this term when the current scheme is due to end.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“We did not need to wait for official statistics to know there is a clear jump in Covid cases in schools. With pupil absence for Covid-related reasons trebling in the space of just a fortnight, and almost one in ten teachers and school leaders absent on 17 March, this is a worrying time. Almost a quarter of schools have more than 15% of their teachers and school leaders absent, a figure that has more than doubled in a fortnight.

“The Government’s plan to end regular testing in schools and free testing in the community after this month is clearly a bad call. It will make Covid outbreaks and future waves hard to track and render impossible the efforts to anticipate trends. Without cases being picked up and isolated, widespread disruption in schools due to the virus will become an ever-increasing threat as we approach exam season.

“We have got to see a change of course on Covid policy from the top, with testing remaining free and at school level a renewed and much more far-reaching commitment to monitoring, air filtration, and other building requirements. It is only though such preventative measures that we can reliably keep education disruption under control, at a time when cases are rising. Living with Covid must not mean ignoring it.”

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