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Covid related school absences in Merseyside are rising

Posted: 10th October 2023 10:12

At least 3,000 children across Merseyside were absent from classrooms due to Covid-19 in the last week before half-term.

A union representing education leaders says rising levels of coronavirus-related absence among pupils are “wreaking havoc” in many schools across England.

Ministers must do more to boost jab uptake and home-testing among eligible students and improve ventilation in school buildings to prevent further disruption to learning, it says.Around 2.4% of pupils at state-funded schools in Merseyside that responded to a survey were absent due to Covid-19 on October 21, Department for Education figures show.

That equates to 3,098 children, though the real figure is likely to be higher as only around 61% of schools in the area provided figures.

The absence rate was higher for secondary schools (3.0%), while at primaries it was 1.7%.

Of the total absences, 1,022 were due to a suspected case of Covid-19, 1,651 for a confirmed case, and 266 because attendance restrictions were in place to manage an outbreak.A further two absences were due to pupils isolating after being advised to do so by NHS track and trace, while the remaining 157 absent pupils were isolating for other reasons.

The overall absence rate across Merseyside was higher than a week earlier, when it was 1.9%, while it stood at around 1.4% on September 9, just after schools started the new term.

But the DfE said care should be taken when comparing rates over time, due to differing response rates.

The North West as a whole fared better than most other regions, with the second-lowest Covid -related school absence rate on October 21, at 2.7%.

Minimising the impact of Covid on eductaion

To help to keep children in school, local authorities are urging anyone who is eligible to take the vaccine.

Liverpool City Council’s Director of Education and Skills, Jonathan Jones, said: "Liverpool City Council is working extremely closely with our schools to minimise the impact of Covid on education.

"We are monitoring school cases closely and responding systematically to any potential escalation of cases in a school setting. In addition to Department for Education controls, our Public Health team have recently advised all secondary school students to wear face coverings in communal areas to minimise any spread as we approach winter.

"Schools are responding incredibly well to the mounting and sustained challenges they are facing, but we urge anyone who is eligible for the vaccine to take up the offer, to help keep children in school."

Rates elsewhere

The South West had the highest rate, at 5.0%, which comes after it recently emerged that thousands of people across the region may have been wrongly told their Covid-19 test results were negative.

Meanwhile, London had the lowest rate, at 1.6%.

Across England, the DfE estimates 248,000 pupils at state-funded schools were off for Covid-related reasons on October 21 – around 3.2% of all children.

That was up from 209,000 a week earlier, which equated to 2.6% of all students, while 1.2% of pupils were absent due to Covid-19 on September 9.

Meanwhile, on-site attendance dropped slightly over the week, from 90.0% to 88.2%.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, 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.”

Mr Barton said he hoped the half-term break will have helped reduce transmission but warned even that is likely to be temporary.

He added: “The Government must do more to roll out the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds, encourage home-testing among eligible pupils, and provide funding for air ventilation systems in schools and colleges.

“We have said this repeatedly and there have been some signs of improvement in the first two of these measures, but it is frustrating how sluggish the Government has been in taking action.”

Absent school officials

The DfE figures also show an estimated 2.1% of teachers and school leaders were absent due to coronavirus-related reasons on October 21, up from 1.8% a week earlier.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said staff absence linked to Covid-19 was a particular concern.

He added: “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.”

Schools minister Robin Walker said the country was at “a pivotal point” where testing and vaccination were vital to fighting the virus and protecting face-to-face education.

He added: “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."

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