More than one in 10 secondary school students and over a third of school staff who had Covid-19 have suffered ongoing symptoms, new figures suggest.
The most common symptom reported by staff and pupils was weakness or tiredness, while staff were more likely to experience shortness of breath than pupils, according to a small study of schools in England.
The survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that about 35.7 per cent of staff and 12.3 per cent of secondary school students with a previously confirmed Covid-19 infection reported experiencing ongoing symptoms more than four weeks from the start of the infection.
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Among those experiencing ongoing symptoms, 15.5 per cent of staff and 9.4 per cent of secondary school students said their ability to carry out day-to-day activities had been significantly reduced.
The Schools Infection Survey, from Public Health England (PHE), the ONS and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), questioned staff and students in schools in July.
This analysis was based on 5,117 survey responses between July 2 and July 26 – 3,459 pupils and 1,658 staff in primary and secondary schools took part.
Of these, 419 staff and 471 secondary school students were identified as previously having Covid-19.
The ONS stressed that the data presented in the study was not representative of all schools in England.
Of survey respondents experiencing ongoing symptoms, about half of staff (51.4 per cent) and secondary school students (49.1 per cent) reported that their ability to carry out general day-to-day activities reduced a little.
For staff experiencing ongoing symptoms, the majority said their ability to carry out activities at work reduced a little (46.6 per cent) or not at all (43.2 per cent).
Meanwhile, about one in 10 staff (10.4 per cent) experiencing ongoing symptoms reported that their ability to carry out activities at work had reduced either by a lot, by about half or they were unable to work because of ongoing symptoms.
The majority of staff (60.9 per cent) who experienced ongoing symptoms more than four weeks after their Covid-19 infection said they had not had any days absent from work as a result .
About 15.9 per cent were absent for five days or less, 10.6 per cent were absent between six and 10 days, and 3.3 per cent had been absent from work for 61 days or more.
Meanwhile, 50 per cent of secondary school students reported that they attended all of school as normal, despite experiencing ongoing symptoms.
A third of secondary school students who experienced ongoing symptoms said they had attended more than half of school, 5.6 per cent attended about half, and 5.6 per cent attended less than half, the figures suggest.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This survey data reveals the largely hidden long-term effects of Covid on both students and school and college staff.
“It is pleasing to note that, despite suffering ongoing and debilitating symptoms, more than half of the staff and young people who responded to the survey had returned to the classroom within four weeks of initially testing positive.
“We obviously have concerns about the number of staff reporting that their ability to perform their normal day-to-day duties had been affected by ongoing coronavirus symptoms such as tiredness and shortness of breath.
“These findings again reinforce the importance of the Covid vaccination programme, including 12- to 15-year-olds, in helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in schools and colleges.”
Shamez Ladhani, consultant paediatrician at PHE and study lead, said: “The study looks at the differences between children and adults in experiencing ongoing symptoms of Covid-19.
“The findings support current evidence that adults are more likely than younger age groups to have ongoing symptoms four or more weeks after infection.
“The study is based on responses from participants in the Schools Infection Survey that had Covid-19 and does not represent the risk of experiencing ongoing symptoms in relation to school settings.”