School union leaders have strongly criticised the Department for Education over the latest attendance figures which show 876,000 pupils were off last week for Covid-related reasons.
The National Education Union’s joint general secretaries, Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, said today’s figures showed a collapse in attendance caused by “DfE negligence” and warned that the coronavirus was now running riot in schools.
And the Association of School and College Leaders’ general secretary, Geoff Barton, said the latest data showed schools were facing “monumental” disruption because of rising Covid cases and are now just desperately trying to cling on until the end of term.
Analysis: How much more Covid is out there?
Background: Covid cases in school double in a week
The new figures show that the proportion of secondary schools with one or more pupils off as a result of contact with a confirmed Covid case in their school has increased to 73 per cent – up from 38 per cent two weeks ago.
It also shows school attendance was down to 83 per cent and 78 per cent in secondaries on Thursday last week.
The department estimates 876,000 pupils were off for Covid-related reasons.
Dr Bousted and Mr Courtney said, in a joint statement: “This collapse in school attendance is the direct result of the government’s negligence.
"They have taken almost no measures to protect schools, pupils and staff from the spread of coronavirus this term.
“We have always been waved away when we have called for action to protect schooling, and government has refused to look at including schools in a ‘circuit break’ to get cases in schools down. They have also refused to look at planning for reduced class sizes or school rotas to keep cases down.
“Schools and teachers are working incredibly hard to keep the system running without any support or resources from the government. The situation has reached a crisis point and the government cannot let coronavirus run riot in schools any longer.”
Mr Barton repeated his call on the DfE for schools to be allowed to use rotas to manage the disruption being caused by Covid.
He said: "Nearly three-quarters of secondary schools and almost a third of primary schools have had to send home pupils because of the impact of coronavirus according to these latest statistics.
“The reality behind these figures is that many schools are experiencing disruption on a monumental scale and are desperately trying to cling on to the end of term.
“We support the priority of keeping schools open but the government has to give them the flexibility to operate rota systems if it would help to manage this turbulent situation.
“The fact is that the current disruption already amounts to many children rotating between school and home because of Covid protocols.
“So, allowing the introduction of managed rotas to help cope with this situation is not a particularly big step.
“However, the government seems to be implacably opposed to rotas and does not appear willing to give even this small concession to support schools.
“We once again call upon ministers to recognise the very difficult circumstances facing schools and take a more pragmatic approach.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is a national priority to keep education settings open full-time, and that remains equally as important in the weeks up to the end of term as it was when young people returned for the new school year.
“Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked extremely hard to remain open, implementing safety measures and scaling up remote education provision for those children who are self-isolating. Thanks to the dedication of staff, at least 99 per cent of schools have been open each week since the start of term.
“Everyone must continue to play their part in driving down cases across society, helping keep education open, in light of the damage of closures to children’s education, development and mental health highlighted by the chief medical officer.”