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Record 111,000 school children had Covid last week

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Molly Rowe, 15, from St John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton receives her vaccines from Dentist Nollaig O Callaghan at Fernhill community centre in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)
Molly Rowe, 15, from St John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton receives her vaccines from Dentist Nollaig O Callaghan at Fernhill community centre in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

The number of pupils absent from school for Covid-related reasons has increased by 5,000 in two weeks, including a record number of confirmed cases.

Latest figures from the department for education show that 2.6 per cent of all state school pupils were off school on Thursday for Covid reasons, compared to 2.5 per cent two weeks previously.

It means the number of pupils off school because of the virus increased from 204,000 to 209,000 in a fortnight.

Of the latest absent pupils, 111,000 had a confirmed case of coronavirus, compared to 102,000 previously. 81,000 were off with a suspected case of coronavirus, while 5,000 were at home due to restrictions that were put in place to manage an outbreak.

The overall attendance rate in state schools was 90 per cent, which is a slight improvement on the previous figure of 89.5 per cent.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We currently have record Covid-related absence in schools. The government cannot just sit back and accept the growing numbers of cases amongst school-age children.

“We also know that staff are being affected too and that many schools are struggling to stay open with increasing numbers of teachers and support staff testing positive. We now have record numbers off with a confirmed case of Covid and it is clear that more needs to be done to control the spread.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Whilst it is pleasing to note a slight increase in overall attendance levels at schools and colleges, the underlying trend is yet another rise in the number of coronavirus-related absences among young people and, perhaps more worryingly, among education staff.

“The rise in staff absence may appear fractional but the reality is that it is now causing real headaches, with staffing problems further disrupting education. This is happening despite staff being vaccinated, with the issue exacerbated by an acute shortage of suitably qualified supply staff.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We are committed to protecting education, which is why the safety measures in place strike a balance between managing transmission risk with regular testing and enhanced ventilation and hygiene, and reducing disruption to face-to-face learning.

“We continue to work with parents and school and college staff to maximise students’ time in the classroom. The vaccination programme for 12-15-year-olds has already reached hundreds of thousands of students, and we encourage young people to get the vaccine and continue with twice weekly testing.”

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