Will schools close again? Shocking data shows hundreds of thousands pupils not in school

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Almost a quarter of a million school pupils in England did not attend school in the week before half term due to reasons related to coronavirus. Data released by the Department of Education demonstrates just how widespread the disease is among the youngest generation, with school closures causing kids to lose on average 58 percent of all classroom time since the pandemic began.

Some 127,000 of these students were off school after testing positive for COVID-19, data from the Department for Education shows.

An estimated 3.2 percent of all school pupils across England, or some 248,000 children did not attend school in the week prior to half term, due to being infected with the virus or being required to isolate on October 21.

The figure shot up from 2.6 percent of all pupils the week before – or 209,000 students.

These figures are considerably higher than at the start of term on September 16, when, 122,300 students were not attending school due to coronavirus-related reasons – with 59,300 of these infected with COVID-19.

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The following week, the number of students off school jumped by 66,600 to 188,900, with the number of pupils testing positive for the virus rising by 27,100 to 86,400.

Since then the rate has steadily risen, aside from one week where cases of missing pupils dropped – but rose immediately back up the following week.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “These figures show just how bad things got at the end of last term, with both pupil and staff absence at their highest levels so far this year.

“As we enter the second half of the autumn term, school leaders are worried that unless the government does more, disruption is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: “These statistics show another increase in both pupil and staff absence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is wreaking havoc in many schools because they have to juggle online and in-person learning for different groups of pupils at different times with fewer staff. It is an impossible situation.”

Robin Walker, the schools minister, said: “As we move into the winter months, we are at a pivotal point where every single test and every single jab is vital in reinforcing our defences against the virus and protecting face-to-face education.”

“We encourage anyone eligible who hasn’t yet had the vaccine to get it, and all secondary and college students to keep doing their two rapid tests each week and record the results.

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“Alongside the wider protective measures this will help to prevent the spread of the virus.”

The data comes as a bill to protect school pupils in England from closures was given an unopposed first reading in the House of Commons.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, argued closing schools had caused far too much harm to children’s education.

He said: “Whilst national lockdowns were important to protect the health of the public, school closures have been nothing short of a disaster for our children.

“By ensuring that any decision taken to close schools is done so following the recommendation of the Children’s Commissioner, is agreed and voted on by a majority of Parliament, and is strictly time-limited, we can make sure the best interests of the child are considered at every stage to keep children in school.

“We owe it to our children to safeguard their educational futures, which COVID-19 put on hold.”

Will schools close again?

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi agreed with Mr Halfon and agreed to consider the bill.

He said: “Protecting face-to-face learning is my absolute priority.

“I have no plans whatsoever to close schools again.”

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