Almost half of pupils were off school towards end of term in Covid hotspots

Almost half of pupils were off school towards the end of term in parts of the country worst hit by Covid isolations, official figures show.

In Middlesbrough, 47.6 per cent of pupils were absent from the classroom on July 15, while 44 per cent were absent in Sunderland and 41.5 per cent in South Tyneside, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

In Middlesbrough, just over half (27 per cent) of the absences on July 15 were down to Covid. Meanwhile, Covid-related reasons accounted for 36.2 per cent of absences in Sunderland and 34.9 per cent in South Tyneside.

Elsewhere in the country absence rates were much lower, during the final week of term with fewer than 15 per cent of children off school in Dorset, Slough, West Berkshire and Norfolk.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the figures should be a “wake up call” for ministers about the level of disruption children in some parts of the country have faced.

“It is not fair that children in a certain region or school have lost out on so much learning compared to peers in another region or school,” he said.

“There is an incredibly important job that needs to be done so those young people do not feel they will be left behind.

“Lots of those regions in normal times were feeling forgotten from the sense of education importance and Covid has exposed the gaps very bleakly between the educationally advantaged and disadvantaged.”

School absences affecting pupils in the most deprived areas in England

Prof Lee Eliot Major, an expert in social mobility, said the absence figures are a “huge concern” due to the learning loss they will lead to.

“The worry of course is that it will exacerbate the education inequalities once again,” he said. “Many of the areas that have the highest proportion of poorer students are the ones that have suffered the lowest attendance rates.

“That is really ominous for social mobility and suggests we will have to be incredibly targeted in any catch up effort so that it is focused on children who have suffered the most.”

The figures also show that a record 1.13 million children in England were out of school for Covid-19 related reasons towards the end of term.

Around 1,126,000 pupils missed class on Friday July 16, up from 1,050,000 the day before. The figures include 994,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 48,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 33,300 with a suspected case.

A further 50,700 pupils were off as a result of school closures due to Covid-related reasons.

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