Levels of coronavirus-related pupil absences in state schools in England has more than tripled, new Government figures show.
Rates of Covid-linked absences rose to 2.5% on March 17, up from 0.7% on March 3.
In total, 201,600 pupils were off for Covid-related reasons on March 17, up from 58,000 on March 3.
And an estimated 9.1% of teachers and school leaders were absent on March 17, up from 5.8% on March 3.
Some 23% of all state schools had more than 15% of their teachers and school leaders absent, up from 11% on March 3, the data shows.
Any more disruption could be “seriously damaging” to pupils’ exam chances, as well as their ability to make up for learning missed because of the pandemic, headteachers said.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “These figures are absolutely in line with what we have been hearing from our members. Covid cases have been spiking again in many schools over the past week or so – in line with the rising numbers nationally.”
Mr Whiteman said staff absences are “once again a big concern”, with the data revealing that nearly one in ten teachers and school leaders are off, “which is as bad as the very start of term”.
He said many schools say it is “near impossible” to find supply teachers to provide cover, adding that “there is no doubt that this level of disruption has a negative impact on pupils”.
He said: “The Government cannot just let Covid rip through schools. Learners need and deserve better than that. Covid hasn’t gone away and we need a proper plan for how to live with it long term that is focused on keeping levels low and reducing disruption.”
He said with “exams looming for many students this is a very worrying time”.
He added: “Many schools are still finishing teaching the specifications as there has been so much disruption over the two years of exam courses; it is getting very tight for time already for teacher-led revision and exam preparation work.
“More disruption now could be seriously damaging to pupils’ exam chances and education recovery.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “These statistics chime with what we are hearing from schools. Once again, many are seeing very severe disruption caused by Covid, with high levels of both pupil and staff absence.
“The improvement in the picture we saw in the national data in early March has proved to be a false dawn, unfortunately.”
He continued: “Worryingly, this latest wave of disruption comes as students are preparing for exams in GCSEs, A-levels and other important qualifications. It is an extremely challenging situation.
“It is very clear that the Government must, as an absolute minimum, continue to make available free Covid testing for education settings after April 1, and that it must extend and simplify financial assistance for the cost of supply cover beyond the end of this term, when the current scheme is due to end.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub