More than 10,000 children missed school for Covid reasons last week in Wales

By Abbie Wightwick

More than 70,000 children were off school in Wales for at least one session last week, including 10,000 for Covid related reasons, most of them secondary age.

Latest Welsh Government data shows tens of thousands of school sessions have been missed this term with more than one in 10 pupils not in the classroom in the week to October 1.

The report comes as headteachers repeat warnings of chaos in some schools with so many pupils and staff absent. School leaders said returning to classrooms with fewer infection mitigations this term has brought more Covid in causing the worst disruption to learners and teachers since the pandemic began.

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(Matthew Horwood)

There were more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus in schools in September, separate Public Health Wales figures show.

Latest Welsh Government school attendance figures for September 27 to October 1 show only 85% of the 474,724 pupils in maintained schools attended school in that period, a slight improvement on the previous week but still an absence rate of 15%.

That is nearly 10% above pre-pandemic absence levels and barely any better than attendance rates when schools were open last autumn.

The current 85% attendance rate is just 0.6% percentage points higher than last academic year the report said. But it stressed that figure may improve when the data is reviewed next week.

The report shows that between September 27 and October 1:

  • 85% of the 474,724 children and teenagers in maintained schools were in attendance.
  • 2.3% of all pupils were absent due to a known Covid-19 related reason - more than 10,900
  • 1.7% of all primary pupils were absent due to a known Covid-19 related reason - more than 4,629
  • 2.4% of all secondary pupils were absent due to a known Covid-19 related reason - more than 4,170

Attendance rates for each school year group from September 27 to October 1

Year 13 - 78.4% attendance

Year 12 - 80.7%

Year 11 - 81%

Year 10 - 81%

Year 9 - 81%

Year 8 - 82.2%

Year 7 - 87.2%

Year 6 - 87.5%

Year 5 - 88%

Year 4 - 88.8%

Year 3 - 89.4%

Year 2 -89.3%

Year 1 - 88.3%

Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru said more information was urgently needed on why so many children are missing school for reasons other than Covid.

And she repeated warnings that it is not business as usual for pupils or teachers although plans for exams and the new curriculum next year are going ahead.

She said numbers absent, and the reasons for absences, were still not entirely clear.

“I pre-pandemic years attendance was around 94%. Now we are looking at 85% with 3% given for a Covid related reason. That means we have 88% attendance without Covid related reasons but that is still 6% less than pre-pandemic.

“Where have those 6% gone? That’s what we don’t understand. We need to interrogate the data. We can’t put in interventions if we don’t understand what interventions are needed (to improve attendance).

“We are still in a period of instability. This is the greatest disruption learners have faced so far during the pandemic.

“The effect of this is obvious. We still don’t have stability or recovery. It is not normal or business as usual in schools this term.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Attendance was slightly higher this week when compared to last week.

“Our priority is to maximise learning and minimise disruption.

"The Decision Framework clearly sets out under which circumstances additional measures should be introduced in schools. It ensures that, rather than take a blanket approach, we can ensure that appropriate actions are taken to reflect local prevalence.

“The latest data suggests that numbers of cases in those under 19 could be starting to level off. We will continue to keep a close eye on the data and work to ensure as many pupils as possible attend school or college safely.”

He said there were no plans to re-introduce penalties for parents not sending their children to school.

“Local authorities retain the legal powers to consider enforcement as a last resort, where all other attempts to engage have been exhausted.

“Under the current circumstances, our view remains that punitive measures such as fines are not appropriate.

"This is with the exception of a small number of cases relating to persistent absence which are unrelated to Covid-19, or where there are concerns about the welfare of the child.

"In these cases, we expect that extensive efforts have been made to re-engage with the family."

To get our daily briefing on major issues in Wales, Wales Matters click here.


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