Nearly a THIRD of pupils in Bolton absent due to Indian variant fears

Nearly 140,000 pupils did not attend class in England in last week before half-term amid fears over Indian variant – as nearly a THIRD skipped class in Covid hotspot Bolton

  • Some 31% of secondary pupils in Bolton had absences linked to virus on May 27 
  • Nationwide nearly 2% of pupils didn’t attend for Covid-related reasons that day
  • It comes as Matt Hancock urges pupils returning after half-term to get tested

Nearly 140,000 pupils didn’t attend class in England in the week before half-term amid fears over the Indian variant of coronavirus, figures show.

Department for Education (DfE) data shows nearly two per cent of all students did not attend school for Covid-related reasons on May 27, compared to 1.3 per cent in the previous week.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of secondary pupils – 31 per cent – in the hotspot area of Bolton were absent with links to the virus, as well as 21 per cent of those in primary schools. 

In the North West more generally, Covid-related pupil absence was at four per cent, compared to the national average of 1.8 per cent – due not just to Bolton but also an increase in cases in Blackburn with Darwen. 

The South West of England had the lowest levels of Covid-19 related pupil absence of any region, with levels well below 1% throughout the half term. 

Nationwide, 116,000 pupils were out of class and self isolating specifically due to potential contact with a case of the virus, the data showed. 

The figures come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged pupils returning to class this week after half-term to get tested to ensure they are not asymptomatically carrying the virus.

School leaders’ unions are calling on the Government to be cautious before any further easing of Covid-19 restrictions and to be proactive to ensure that transmission in schools does not ‘proceed unchecked’.

On the week before half-term, 90,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the school, up from 60,000 on May 20, a rise of 50%.

A further 26,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside school, up from 22,000 the previous week.

Meanwhile, 19,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, up from 18,000 on May 20, and 4,000 were off after testing positive for Covid-19, the same as the week before.

Around 0.1% of pupils in state schools were absent on May 27 because their school was closed due to Covid-19 related reasons, the analysis shows.

Pupil attendance in secondary schools fell by 8 percentage points between May 5 and May 27, but the DfE estimates that this was partially due to schools offering different provision for year 11 and 13 pupils.

In secondary schools, Covid-related absence was 2% on May 27 and in primary schools it was 1.6%.

The South West of England had the lowest levels of Covid-19 related pupil absence of any region, with levels well below 1% throughout the half term, compared to 4% in the North West on May 27.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘We are clearly now seeing the impact of the Delta variant feeding through into these statistics, and this is reflected by the fact that absence is highest in areas that have been worst affected by the variant.

‘This means that many pupils are having to self-isolate in line with Covid protocols and will be experiencing yet more disruption.’

He added: ‘This situation highlights the fact that the utmost caution is needed in the weeks ahead before any further easing of Covid restrictions, and the current measures must also be kept under review to see if any other actions are immediately required.

‘In the longer term, this continued disruption provides yet more evidence of the need for the Government to put forward a much more ambitious education recovery plan than it has so far managed.’ 

Around four million people in the North West of England are now in the area with extra restrictions because of concerns about outbreaks of the Indian variant. Bolton, Burnley, Blackburn and Kirklees were already affected but now all of Lancashire and Greater Manchester have been added

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘We are hearing from our members that more and more schools are having to close multiple classes or ‘bubbles’, particularly in areas with higher case numbers, and revert to remote learning. 

‘One school told us that though they were not officially closed, six of their seven year groups were isolating due to Covid.’

He added: ‘The Government must be proactive to ensure that transmission in schools, particularly in relation to the new variant, is not allowed to proceed unchecked.

‘We must not sleepwalk into further widespread disruption to education.

‘We would urge the Government to do everything necessary to protect school communities.’ 

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