The reopening of schools in England has sparked a huge surge in Covid cases among students and pupils in England, with official figures showing that more than 100,000 children were absent with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections last week.
The figures from the Department for Education revealed that fewer than 92% of pupils were present in classrooms on 16 September, with 59,000 absent with confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a further 45,000 off with suspected cases.
A further 2,000 children missed school “due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak,” according to the DfE.
The total of 103,000 with confirmed or suspected cases is higher than the number seen at the end of the last school year. In mid-July, the DfE said just 82,000 children were absent with confirmed or suspected cases.
The statistics are the first official indications of the spread of the virus within schools and colleges since the start of the new school year at the start of September, when the use of preventive measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and the use of small group “bubbles” was abandoned by the DfE.
In July, more than a million children were absent overall, but that included more than 930,000 children self-isolating because of classroom contacts. This year the DfE has said that children who are close contacts of confirmed or suspected cases do not need to self-isolate unless they display symptoms.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is clear from the fact that over 100,000 pupils were absent from school last week with a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus that educational disruption remains significant. We are hearing of schools where significant numbers of pupils are absent.
“We are hopeful that the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds will help to reduce this level of disruption. However, the government must also take more action to support schools and colleges.
“It should launch a public information campaign to encourage twice-weekly home-testing among pupils in the appropriate age groups, provide funding for high-quality ventilation systems in schools and colleges, and commit to providing more support if on-site testing is directed under the contingency framework.”
Barton also urged the government to publish its plans for 2022’s A-level and GCSE exams, saying it was “extremely frustrating” that guidance has still not been issued.
Nadhim Zahawi, the new education secretary, said it was “fantastic” to see more than 91% of children back in the classroom, compare with 87% this time last year. “That’s down to the hard work of teachers, support staff as well as families whose efforts have been heroic in making sure children can get back to school safely.
“The rollout of the vaccine to those aged 12-15, which started this week, is another significant step in building the walls of protection from the virus across society,” Zahawi said.