One-in-12 teachers are off for Covid-related reasons

One-in-12 teachers are off with Covid as unions warn axing free lateral flow tests is ‘reckless in the extreme’

  • Children absent from schools for Covid reasons have fallen over past two weeks, with 2.2 per cent of pupils off on March 31, down from 2.5 per cent on March 17
  • Unions have called on Zadhim Zahawi to reinstate free Covid-19 tests for schools
  • Estimated 8.7 per cent of teachers and leaders absent, down from 9.1 per cent

One-in-12 teachers across UK schools are off sick for Covid-related reasons, newly released government data has revealed.

An estimated 8.7 per cent of teachers and school leaders absent for any reason on March 31 – which is down from 9.1 per cent two weeks prior.

Children who are absent for reasons related to Covid have fallen over the past two weeks, with 2.2 per cent of pupils off on March 31, down from 2.5 per cent on March 17.

For the same two-week period, a total of 178,000 students were not in school because of coronavirus.

However, unions have shared their concerns of these ongoing disruption because of Covid, calling on Education Secretary Zadhim Zahawi to reinstate free lateral flow tests for pupils and staff.

On Monday both the NAHT school leaders’ union and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) penned an open letter to say the decision to remove the free tests for pupils and teachers ‘feels reckless in the extreme’.

General secretaries at NAHT, Paul Whiteman and ASCL, Geoff Barton wrote that their members had reported greater Covid-related disruption in their schools and colleges over the last few weeks than ‘at any previous point during the pandemic’.

They added that for many members, it could prove to be the ‘final straw’.

Children absent from schools for Covid-related reasons have fallen over the past two weeks, with 2.2 per cent of pupils off on March 31, down from 2.5 per cent on March 17. Unions have shared their concerns of these ongoing disruption because of Covid, calling on Education Secretary Zadhim Zahawi (pictured) to reinstate free lateral flow tests for pupils and staff

Mr Whiteman said: ‘We continue to hear a sense of deep frustration from school leaders as they struggle to deal with the significant and ongoing disruption caused by Covid – whilst the Government removes every measure they have for controlling it.

‘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. School leaders feel 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.’

Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: ‘It is clear that the impact of the pandemic has not been evenly felt by all pupils, with different pupil groups and regions facing greater challenges than others.

‘Our research has shown that it is pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those living in parts of the North and the Midlands who have been hardest hit.

‘Pupil and staff absences continue to cause disruption and it is likely that the effects will be inconsistent between schools.

‘This raises questions about how the Department for Education and Ofsted should interpret school performance measures for this year.’

On Monday both the NAHT school leaders’ union and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) penned an open letter to say the decision to remove the free tests for pupils and teachers ‘feels reckless in the extreme’ (file photo)

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said he was pleased to see there appeared to have been a ‘slight fall’ in the number of pupils absent because of Covid, as well as a ‘small fall’ in staff absence.

‘However, the situation remains grave with very severe disruption continuing in many schools and colleges,’ he said.

‘These figures show that a fifth of schools had more than 15% of their teachers absent last week. It is very difficult to operate in these conditions.

‘The Government’s decision to withdraw free testing in such circumstances is a retrograde step, particularly with exams a few weeks away, and we have repeatedly urged ministers to reconsider.’

Mr Barton said he understood the Government’s ‘desire to declare Covid over and done with’ but that it is ‘not the reality in schools and colleges, where the illness continues to be a real problem because of the impact on both pupils and the workforce’.

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