One in 10 children are currently absent from school amid a quadrupling in the number of pupils self-isolating, official figures show.
There are currently 10.3 per cent of students off school – more than double the average proportion for the 2018/19 academic year, according to the latest data from the Department for Education (DfE).
In secondary schools, the proportion of absent pupils rises to 15.1 per cent, up from 11.3 per cent the previous week. Meanwhile, seven per cent of pupils were absent from primary school – up from 4.3 per cent.
The higher than usual absence rate is being fuelled by high numbers of students self-isolating after a pupil in their bubble caught Covid. The number self-isolating due to potential contact with a virus case from inside school has risen from 40,000 on June 10 to 172,000 on June 17.
Last week, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, wrote to parents urging them to continue with lateral flow testing. Every secondary school pupil and the members of their household is meant to take two of the rapid antigen tests each week at home and report any positive results to their school.
Mr Williamson’s plea came in the wake of calls for the testing programme to be suspended after analysis by The Telegraph revealed that up to 60 per cent of "positive" tests a week are coming back negative when checked.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has written to parents urging them to continue with lateral flow testing
Credit: George Cracknell Wright/LNP
It came after British academics from universities including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London wrote to him to warn that lateral flow testing posed a danger for schools and called for it to be suspended.
According to the DfE figures, Covid-related pupil absence in English schools is now at its highest since all schools fully reopened in March. Headteachers said the data is "extremely worrying" and have told ministers to "think urgently" about how disruption to education will be reduced in the next academic year.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "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.
"The Government must think urgently about how to reduce educational disruption in the next academic year after the summer holidays. We simply cannot have another term of large numbers of children spending time out of school because of coronavirus."
Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who led the Oxford vaccine programme, has warned that mass testing is leading to such huge disruption in schools that it may be worth vaccinating youngsters to stop the chaos. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is deciding whether to recommend jabs for children.
A government spokesman 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."