Absence rates linked to Covid have rocketed in schools (Image: PA)
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The number of pupils missing class due to Covid-19 has nearly trebled in a week, worrying new figures show.
Absences in England are at their highest rate since schools fully reopened to children in March – with at least 239,000 state school pupils (3.3%) out of school on June 17.
This compares to 1.2% the previous week, according to Department for Education figures.
In secondary schools, only 84.9% of kids were in class last week, down from 88.7%, while 93% of primary pupils attended, down from 95.1% on June 10.
And the number of pupils self-isolating due to a potential Covid contact in the school quadrupled in just one week, from 40,000 on June 10 – the week after half-term – to 172,000 children on June 17.
The vast majority of pupils were absent due to risk of contact in school rather than outside of it, prompting concern from teaching unions about keeping classrooms safe.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These statistics show a large and extremely worrying increase in the number of children absent from school for Covid-related reasons.
"It clearly reflects the climbing rate of coronavirus cases in society in general and the prevalence of the Delta variant
“It means that many pupils and schools are experiencing yet more disruption after more than a year of turbulence and it is a grim way to reach the closing stages of the school year."
Teachers have no choice but to "hang on until the end of term", he said.
Mr Barton added: "However, the government must think urgently about how to reduce educational disruption in the next academic year after the summer holidays.
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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of headteachers' union NAHT, said the figures were a sign of the pressure schools are under.
"Schools are continuing to work incredibly hard to ensure that all the safety arrangements recommended by government remain in place.
"However, we can see that case numbers are continuing to rise amongst children and teenagers and so it is essential that local public health teams are given the freedom to react quickly and put additional precautions in place where this is necessary – seeking central government approval for such action only risks delaying the necessary measures being put in place."
A Government spokesperson said: "Schools across the country continue to have robust protective measures in place, including regular twice weekly testing to break chains of transmission and keeping pupils in smaller group bubbles.
"We are also taking additional measures in areas where there is a high prevalence of the virus, including increasing the availability of testing for staff, pupils and families and working with directors of public health on further measures to reduce local transmission. Absence in schools continues to reflect wider community transmission.
"Where students have to self-isolate, schools are providing high-quality remote education."