The Department for Education does not know how many teachers or school staff have died of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, it has been revealed.
The department was asked to provide figures for Covid-19 illness and death for all school staff under a Freedom of Information Act request.
In response, it has said that it “does not hold information related to the number of deaths as a result of Covid-19".
The DfE said that is does hold information on teacher absence due to Covid-19, but will publish it at a future date.
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Caroline Keep, a teacher who submitted the FOI request, said that a lack of information about teacher illness and deaths through Covid-19 risked undermining the government’s message that schools are safe to reopen.
The government is coming under mounting pressure to close schools amid rising Covid cases.
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The prime minister has repeatedly said that schools are safe, and today health secretary Matt Hancock said there was no evidence of a higher rate of coronavirus infection among teachers than any other profession.
There are now reports that the government is set to announce widespread school closures as part of a stricter lockdown.
Ms Keep, a teacher in Warrington, said: “When I did a freedom of information request for data on teacher absence, illness and deaths, I was told by the DfE that it was not in the public interest to publish these data then.
“At a time when teacher, students and parents need reassurance that schools are safe, surely it is in the public interest now?"
On the lack of information on teacher deaths, she added: “If the data was at all reassuring, surely they would be releasing it now, given the pressure from unions to safely return students and teachers to school amid the spread of the new variant.”
The DfE’s response to Ms Keep said: “The department does not hold information related to the number of deaths as a result of Covid-19.
“The Department holds the information you have requested about teacher absences related to Covid-19, but it is being withheld because an exemption under Section 22 of the Act applies.
“Section 22 provides for information to be exempt from disclosure where the information is held by the department with a view to its publication by the department or any other person at some future date.
“It was so held at the time your request was made, and it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld until that date. ”
The government has said this it will publish teacher attendance data this month.
Ms Keep submitted her FOI request in November and received a response from the DfE in the final week of term last year.
Her request follows a demand from the NEU teaching union, last year, for the same information.
The general secretaries of the NEU asked ministers to tell them how many teachers and support staff have tested positive, been hospitalised and died from Covid-19 since the full reopening of schools in September.
In a joint statement today, education unions warned that bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing school staff to serious risk of ill health and could fuel the pandemic.
Six unions with members in schools – the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite – have published a joint statement that calls for a pause in the reopening of schools.
The Office for National Statistics produced figures for the number of deaths in education settings last year but has not published any new data since the full return of schools in September.
Figures published in May showed that between 9 March and 20 April, a minimum of 65 staff working in the education sector died after contracting the virus – more than two dozen of whom were nursery, primary, secondary or special school teachers, according to the statistics.