Education leaders have slammed the Government’s self-isolation policy after official figures show that 830,000 children in England were absent from school last week – with 747,000 of those forced to quarantine due to possible contact with a Covid case.
About one in nine (11.2 per cent) state school pupils did not attend class for coronavirus-related reasons on July 8, up from 8.5 per cent on July 1 and 5.1 per cent on June 24, according to Department for Education statistics.
These include approximately 747,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 35,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus and 39,000 with a confirmed case of Covid-19.
The latest figures come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced last week that the use of ‘bubbles’ in schools and colleges in England will come to an end as the country moves towards easing lockdown restrictions.
Current rules say that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.
But Mr Williamson has said it will be up to individual schools and colleges as to whether they scrap the bubble system on Monday ahead of the summer holidays, following the move to Step 4 of the road map.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘This further large increase in Covid-related pupil absence is more evidence, if it were needed, of the crisis in schools and colleges caused directly by the rules requiring teachers to send home large numbers of children to self-isolate who do not necessarily have the virus.’
Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, told MailOnline: ‘Youngsters are at greater risk of harm in crossing the road than they are from the Covid virus and most parents and grandparents have been vaccinated and are not at risk.
‘Sending home scores of pupils because one child may carry the virus is hugely damaging to the vast majority of pupils. School management is descending into madness.
Covid-related pupil absence in England has hit a new record high since all students fully returned to class in March this year, with more than 830,000 children out of school last week, Government figures show (stock)
About one in nine (11.2 per cent) state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19 related reasons on July 8, up from 8.5 per cent on July 1 and 5.1 per cent on June 24, according to Department for Education statistics (stock)
Quarter of vulnerable Brits are still shielding despite guidance dropping in APRIL as ministers say 3.8million at-risk adults in England should wait three weeks until after second Covid jab before meeting anyone
More than a quarter of extremely vulnerable people in England are still shielding despite official guidance to do so dropping in April, Government data shows.
An Office for National Statistics report published today found 29 per cent of immunosuppressed patients or those with severe underlying health conditions were still following stay at home orders by the end of June.
Strict shielding guidance was issued during the initial lockdown last spring and applied to nearly 4million people in England who were deemed most at risk of dying from Covid, including cancer and heart disease patients.
The advice was dropped on April 1 when the second wave was flattened, infection levels were low and the vast majority of shielders had been invited for their Covid vaccines.
No10 updated its guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people last night to say they should wait three weeks after their second jab before being in ‘close contact’ with anyone.
‘Only children who test positive and feel unwell, should be sent home. The others need to start catching up on all the learning they have missed out on during lockdown.’
The latest attendance figures, which have been adjusted to exclude those year 11-13 students not expected to attend because they are off-site, show that an estimated 80.4 per cent of state school pupils in England were in class on July 8, down from 83.4 per cent on July 1 and 87.4 per cent on June 24, the DfE said.
In secondary schools, only 73.6 per cent attended class, down from 76.9 per cent on the previous week, while 85.1 per cent of pupils attended primary school, down from 87.8 per cent on July 1.
The number of pupils self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the school rose in just one week from around 471,000 children on July 1 to 624,000 pupils on July 8.
A further 123,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside school, up from 90,000 the previous week.
Meanwhile, about 39,000 pupils were off after testing positive for Covid-19, up from 28,000, and 35,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, up from 34,000.
About 0.3 per cent of pupils were absent on July 8 because their school was closed due to Covid-19 related reasons, compared with 0.2 per cent the previous week.
The Government has announced that from August 16, children in England will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.
Mr Barton added: ‘The Government’s decision to end this disruptive policy when the autumn term begins now heralds another huge set of challenges for education settings.
‘They need substantial support, both financially and practically, in setting up on-site asymptomatic testing for students when they return in September, installing high-quality air ventilation systems and in having robust outbreak management plans ready.’
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the attendance figures ‘made for grim reading’ and he accused the Government of losing control of the situation.
He warned: ‘Simply changing the rules around self-isolation is not a proper solution. The Government must take urgent action to drive down case numbers amongst school-aged children and implement alternative safety measures in key areas such as ventilation.
‘A policy of doing nothing and hoping for the best next term not only fails to address the problem, it risks making things worse.’
Mr Brook added: ‘The Government’s wider narrative around relaxation of safety measures appears to be at complete odds with the reality in schools right now.’
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Simply hoping for the best did not prevent the Delta variant breaching our borders, and hoping for the best will not be sufficient support for school and college leaders who need the backing of Government to stay open safely and sustainably when case counts rise.
The latest figures come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced last week that the use of ‘bubbles’ in schools and colleges in England will come to an end as the country moves towards easing lockdown restrictions
Current rules say that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus (stock)
‘We can all hope for the best but we must plan for something that is less than the best.’
The Education Secretary previously announced it would be up to individual schools as to whether they scrap the bubble system before the summer holidays, following the expected move to Step 4 after July 19.
Updated Department for Education guidance says keeping children in consistent bubbles will not be needed for summer provision, or in the autumn.
In addition to ending bubbles, Mr Williamson said it will ‘not be necessary to stagger start and finish times’ at schools.
He told the Commons: ‘We recognise that the system of bubbles and isolation is causing disruption to many children’s education. That is why we’ll be ending bubbles and transferring contact tracing to the NHS Test and Trace system for early years settings, schools and colleges.’
Mr Williamson added: ‘I do not think it is acceptable that children should face greater restrictions over and above those of wider society, especially since they have given up so much to keep older generations safe during this pandemic.’
From July 19, schools will no longer be expected to undertake contact tracing and NHS Test and Trace will instead identify close contacts of positive cases. Face coverings will also no longer be advised for pupils, staff and visitors, either in classrooms or in communal areas.
But the Education Secretary said ‘some protective measures’ – such as enhanced hygiene and ventilation – will remain in place for the autumn term.
He told MPs: ‘Secondary schools and colleges will be asked to provide two on-site tests to their students at the start of term, with regular home testing continuing until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.’