Teachers have been placed at the "upper end" of a scale comparing workers' likelihood of testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Office for National Statistics found evidence that teachers were more likely than nine other professional groups to test positive for Covid-19 in the period between 1 September 2020 and 7 January 2021, putting them "at the upper end of the continuum".
The findings follow controversy over official data on teacher Covid cases, with one union leader calling previous findings "misleading".
Today's report is based on newer data and covers a longer period than before.
Teachers 'more likely to catch Covid'
It finds that, in a list of 25 professions, teachers and other education professionals are placed towards the "higher end of the range" for positive Covid-19 tests.
Across the 25 different professions, the likelihood of testing positive between 1 September 2020 and 7 January 2021 ranged from 2.1 per cent to 4.8 per cent.
This means the differences are relatively small, but some professions had a higher probability of testing positive compared with others.
Apart from teaching and other education professionals, others in the "higher risk" group included caring personal service occupations; protective service occupations; secretarial and related occupations; and other managers and proprietors.
The ONS explains: "These occupations had probabilities that were statistically significantly higher than some at the lower end but were not statistically significantly different to those in the middle of the range."
For teachers, there was "limited" evidence that they have a higher probability of testing positive than health professionals, corporate managers and directors and those in customer service occupations.
But there was "strong" evidence that teachers were more likely to test positive than: business and public service associate professionals; those in culture, media and sports occupations; business, media and public service professionals; and those working in science and engineering research, textiles and other skilled trades, and skilled agricultural and related trades.
There was no difference between teachers' risk and that of the other professions in the list (see image above).
In a previous analysis published last year, the ONS did not find statistical evidence of a difference in the positivity rate between primary and secondary school teachers, other key workers and other professions.
However, the ONS explains that the analyses in this new article use a different and longer period of time from 1 September 2020 to 7 January 2021, where there were many more cases within the community, a growing infection rate and the new UK variant was in circulation.
It adds: "There were also different interventions in place over the period of this latest analysis, which were not in place during September and the start of October 2020. The increased amount of data has allowed us to improve the methodology in this analysis."
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, pointed out on social media that the report covered a period "when schools were open and others weren’t, but also includes a period when schools had holidays".
ONS study comparing chances of contracting the virus says this:— Kevin Courtney #NEU💝NHS (@cyclingkev) February 22, 2021
"Though there was no significant difference between the majority of occupations, some occupations showed a higher probability of testing positive compared to some others."https://t.co/Hy5fyLfVoP
In response to the findings, the Department for Education sent a written comment from Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse and director of maternity and early years at Public Health England.
It said: “We have always advised that schools should be the last to close and first to open. It is vital for children’s wellbeing that we get schools open again.
“Staff, parents and pupils can feel reassured by scientific evidence that shows transmission in schools is low and that children are not drivers of infection in schools or the wider community.
“The system of controls and the introduction of rapid testing programmes in place in schools offer further reassurance in the measures taken to maximise the safety of the school environment.
“Most importantly, we know that infection rates in schools are driven by transmission in the wider community. It remains essential that we all continue to keep or contacts to a minimum and follow restrictions outside the school gates so that schools can re-open and stay open.”