Headteachers have warned that schools in some areas of the country are already struggling to keep classes open because of Covid outbreaks, as new figures have revealed that more than 100,000 pupils were off last week because of the virus.
As of Thursday last week, there were 45,000 pupils off with a suspected case of Covid and another 59,000 pupils off with a confirmed case.
Headteachers' leaders have said that some schools are already facing significant levels of absence because of Covid, just weeks into the new term.
Covid safety measures: School bubbles scrapped
New figures show that, in total, 1.5 per cent of pupils were off for Covid-related reasons last week.
The proportion of pupils with Covid has increased slightly compared with the end of the last school year, from 0.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent.
Covid: Schools 'struggling to keep classes open'
However, overall Covid-related absence is markedly down on the end of the last academic year, when more than 14 per cent of pupils were off.
This proportion is likely to be affected by changes in the way the virus is being managed in schools – with bubbles no longer operating and close contacts of Covid cases no longer being asked to self isolate.
And heads say the overall national figures "mask" the pressure on some schools hardest hit by the virus.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “These numbers reflect the latest changes to government policy, which require far fewer pupils to self-isolate when there is a positive case identified in school.
“However, it’s important to note that these national figures mask some significant issues arising at a local level, and we already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring.
“It is crucial that both central and local government are now on high alert and are ready to react quickly if and when cases rise rapidly or outbreaks occur. The next few weeks will be crucial."
Geoff Barton, 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.
“Schools and colleges also urgently need confirmation of the adaptations for next summer’s exams, and the contingency planning in the event of exams not being able to take place. It is extremely frustrating that this guidance has still not been issued.”