Concern over pupil absence surge amid teacher shortage pressures

Pupil absence is surging just a month after figures appeared to be at their best since the pandemic began.

The number of children off school with coronavirus related attendance restrictions has more than doubled in a fortnight. 

The worsening picture comes just a month on from attendance being at its highest since May 2021.

The DfE has recently updated its school attendance guidance, meaning schools will no longer have to distinguish between Covid-related absence when recording attendance

Figures suggest the overall increase is related to pupils having to isolate despite not testing positive with secondary school absences due to "exceptional circumstances" tripling from 11,900 on 17 March to 30,100 on 31 March. 

Partial school closures due to teacher shortages is also thought to be an issue.

Department for Education data reveals a slight fall in overall attendance between 17-31 March, despite fewer pupils being recorded as absent for Covid-related reasons.

Covid-related pupil absence officially fell from 202,000 (2.5 per cent) on 17 March to 178,800 (2.2 per cent) on 31 March.

The DfE acknowledged the figures for pupils isolating and with confirmed cases of Covid "may be impacted by levels of testing".

A school classroom with occupants wearing face masksPaul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said the union was continuing to hear a "sense of deep frustration from school leaders as they struggle to deal with the significant and ongoing disruption caused by Covid".

"We all assumed 'living with Covid' meant there would be very low case levels - this is clearly not the case and absence rates remain at concerningly high levels." 

Mr Whiteman added that school leaders felt they have been "abandoned". 

"The ongoing risk of illness and chaos caused by staff absence, not to mention the mounting pressure of exams, Sats and Ofsted, is unsustainable. Our members, and education, are at breaking point."

Simon Carter, Director at EdTech firm RM, commented: “A careful analysis of the latest figures from the Department for Education suggests that the number of pupils absent from school last week has risen to well over a million – a 100,000 increase in the last fortnight – which may generate some tough soul-searching amongst many educators.  

"Despite Government COVID-19 restrictions lifting and the UK economy stabilising, it’s concerning to see that the number of school children missing classes remains at record levels.  And the school workforce is taking a similar hit, with over 100,000 teachers and teaching assistants unable to attend their schools last week.
 
“But that introspection is, at least on this occasion, something that many of us can take in our stride – while this news might once have been enough to bring schools and colleges to their knees, the digital transformation of education institutions across the UK that happened over lockdown has evolved into a newfound resilience that protects learning outcomes whatever the circumstances.

"Thanks to an effectively developed hybrid learning structure in schools, educators are better positioned than ever before to continue the education of children – even if they are stuck indoors.  To do so in a way that works for parents and students alike, schools simply need to ensure their staff are able to make the best use of the technology that most schools have already invested in to continue to teach and engage with students – whether they are in class or working remotely.
 
“After two years of being upended by the COVID-19 crisis, now is the time for education institutions to batten down the hatches and reap the rewards of the hard work done to digitally transform teaching materials in 2020 and 2021. For schools that are as keen now to upskill their staff and students in all things digital as they were over lockdown, education will undoubtedly remain a constant for young people – whatever is thrown their way.”