Attendance figures continue to drop due to pandemic

As reported by BBC news, the percentage of pupils in class across England’s state primary and secondary schools fell last week from 89% to 86%, government statistics show

The drop on the previous week’s attendance was most significant in secondary schools, from 87% to 83%. The Northern Powerhouse, a plan aimed at redressing North-South economic imbalance, says pupils in the North face the most disruption over COVID-19. The government said some pupils were self-isolating ‘as we would expect’.

Attendance at England’s primary schools fell from 92% in the week ending 15 October to 90% in the week ending 22 October, the data shows. The Department for Education said approximately 26% of schools – 55% of secondaries and 20% of primaries – reported having one or more pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school. This compares to 21% of schools last week.

Commenting on the Week 43 school attendance statistics published by the Department for Education, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This analysis paints a grim picture of the increasingly challenging situation facing schools with attendance falling amidst rising COVID infection rates. With the majority of schools in England on half term this week, there is now a short pause while school leaders and staff brace themselves for what is clearly going to be an even more difficult half term ahead.

“In this turbulent context, it is crucial that schools are able to provide disadvantaged pupils with laptops so they can work from home if they have to self-isolate and do not have access to these devices. However, it is very clear that the government has completely underestimated the number of laptops that are needed.

“This is evident from the fact that at the end of last week, just as most schools broke up for half term, the government informed many schools that their allocation of laptops was being drastically reduced in order to prioritise devices for the areas of highest need. It is clearly the case that demand is outstripping supply at an alarming rate.

“Our impression is that the government has never fully grasped the scale of the challenge both in terms of the numbers of devices that are needed and over ensuring that families have the connectivity they require. It is very frustrating that progress has been so slow on this front despite the fact that it has been discussed for many months.

“We do recognise that officials have worked hard to source and distribute laptops, but the failing has been the lack of a clear understanding of what is needed together with a target and timescale that would at least have given confidence that the government is on top of the issue.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The latest figures on school absence add to an ever-more compelling argument that government needs to be vastly more assertive in its efforts to futureproof schools against the effects of COVID outbreaks. They are shocking numbers.

“The challenge is not going away, so Gavin Williamson must now take steps to expand school space, increase staff numbers and help us maintain social distancing. Instead he is ostrich-like, producing increasingly bizarre responses to attendance statistics that insist black is white and all is well. This is plainly not true. He is also completely out of touch if he thinks that exams can continue as normal next year, even with a three-week delay of now vanishing relevance, or that Ofsted inspections should recommence in January.

“At a critical moment, the education profession is faced with a Department intent on making life more difficult for schools and young people. Last week’s decision to ration laptops for disadvantaged children, while at the same time putting a legal duty on schools to provide remote learning for those who need to isolate, is shameful. Gavin Williamson is making no serious effort to fix problems of his creation, nor does he support schools in a way that is fitting in a time of crisis. To refuse to provide free school meals in half term is a further insult.”

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