Coronavirus: Attendance falling at Scottish schools

Coronavirus already making many school staff and students stay away, as debate intensifies about keeping schools open

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: Attendance falling at Scottish schools

Coronavirus is already making schools quieter places, even though almost all remain open.

Teachers around the country have told Tes Scotland of increasing levels of staff and pupil absence as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

Just over a quarter of pupils in Glasgow, Scotland's largest local authority, were recorded as absent yesterday: 27.4 per cent in primary schools, 25.2 per cent in secondaries and 22.8 per cent in additional support for learning schools. The council said attendance was usually around 92 per cent at this time of year.

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Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna, a former maths teacher, said today that attendance levels in the city's schools were “low” and that she might have to dust off her General Teaching Council for Scotland registration if staffing levels continued to fall.

The coronavirus impact on schools

“I’ve already planned to do supported study with Castlemilk High during the Easter term to support them...We will go out supporting schools wherever we can,” she said.

She also stressed that mass closures represented a safeguarding risk for some pupils.

The Glasgow figures are from yesterday and there are signs that staff and pupils across Scotland are staying away in greater numbers today, following the escalation of the response to coronavirus announced by both the Scottish and UK governments at around teatime yesterday.

One secondary teacher in a school of more than 1,300 students said that only about 49 per cent of students had come in today. Another secondary teacher who contacted Tes Scotland said numbers in their classes were down by about a third today. A teacher in a secondary in a different part of Scotland said that student attendance was about 60 per cent today, and that most absent pupils are entitled to free school meals.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that the possibility of mass school closures would be considered every day, but she previously stressed that there would not necessarily be a uniform approach across Scotland.

One secondary teacher told Tes Scotland that numbers of staff and students at school were falling and that both were increasingly anxious, particularly senior students who were hearing "nothing" about exams – which are due to start on 27 April – from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

On a positive note, the same teacher said that they were "all set up for online distant learning". However, they said that lots of staff were angry that health workers were "rightfully" receiving praise from ministers, whereas they "completely ignore" teachers' efforts.

Teachers have shared complaints with Tes Scotland of inconsistent approaches in school to self-isolation, pupils with coughs and pregnant staff. Some said that coronavirus had not yet had the impact they expected.

One secondary teacher said: "We've seen a slightly higher number of pupils off (nowhere near as many as I expected) but staffing is by far going to be the main issue in all of this.

"I know some local authorities have been explicit about vulnerable groups working from home, while others have put the onus back on individuals to make their own decisions."

The teacher added: "I can't see us being able to continue like this for much longer as even today staff have been leaving to care for unwell family members, with the view they will now be isolating for 14 days.

"Haven't got a clear idea of numbers yet, but it feels much more than the usual."

On Twitter, a number of contrasted the decision to end student teacher placements as of yesterday with the policy of schools remaining open, expressing concern that, as a result, many teachers were at risk of harm.



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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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