More than 160 primary and secondary school staff in Wales and England died with Covid in 2020

By Abbie Wightwick

More than 160 primary and secondary school staff in Wales and England died with Covid between March and December 2020, official ONS data shows.

But they were not at greater risk of death from Covid in 2020 compared to other professions, new analysis of the figures shows.

A study by University of Bristol researchers, looked at data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) national death register for school staff and working adults aged between 20 to 64 years-old.

Read more: The good news in the Covid data suggesting cases in Wales are falling

Secondary age pupils are now asked to take two Covid lateral flow tests a week (PA Wire/PA Images)

The aim of the study, published today (24 November) in BMJ Open, was to estimate occupational risk from Covid among school staff – teachers, teaching and lunchtime assistants - using ONS mortality data from England and Wales between March 8 to December 28 2020.

There is no Wales-only data only combined England and Wales.

The researchers found mortality rates for deaths with Covid-19 were low among people working in schools (10 per 100,000 in female primary school teachers to 39 per 100,000 in male secondary school teachers) compared to many other occupations (nine to 50 per 100,000 in women; from 10 to 143 per 100,000 in men).

In total 50 male and 114 female school staff died with Covid between March 8 and December 28 2020 - reflecting the higher proportion of women in the profession, the report authors said.

The research team suggest policy makers “should be aware that during Covid-19 school staff were not at high risk of death compared to other occupations” when considering the impact of schools being open in future pandemics.

"There was weak evidence that secondary school teachers had higher mortality risk from Covid-19 and primary school teachers had lower mortality from Covid-19 compared to all working aged people,”the report said.

“Teaching and lunchtime assistants were not at higher risk of death from Covid-19 compared with all working aged people.”

Children won't have to wear masks during lessons anymore (Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Analysis showed there were fewer deaths than the five-year average among female primary and secondary school teachers and the number of deaths among male teachers were similar to the five-year average. There were more deaths among teaching assistants compared to the five-year average, but only around half of the excess deaths were thought to be attributable to Covid.

For all women working in schools combined there was a 5% increase in the number of deaths compared with the five-year average. For school staff over 65-years-old there were large excesses in deaths compared with the average for the previous five years (74% for men and 37% for women), but only around a third of the excess deaths were thought to be attributable to Covid, the report added.

Sarah Lewis, Professor of molecular Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) at the University of Bristol and corresponding author on the study, said it was not known whether the staff affected caught Covid in schools but peak infection levels were at the time schools were open.

“Our research found teachers and teaching and lunchtime assistants, aged between 20 to 64-years-old, were not at high risk of death from Covid-19 during the pandemic in 2020 compared to the working age population in England and Wales,” she added.

“There was weak evidence that the risk of death from Covid-19 for secondary school teachers was slightly higher than expected but overall, the mortality risks from Covid-19 for school staff and across all occupations were in proportion to their non-Covid mortality risk.”

Professor Lewis said although not addressed in this paper, other important issues to consider include being hospitalised due to Covid-19 and long Covid and the beneficial effect of the vaccine roll out this year.

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