Schools should only allow absences arising from Covid pandemic ‘in exceptional circumstances’, heads reminded

By Zoe Tidman
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Schools have been reminded that headteachers should only authorise absences arising from the Covid pandemic in exceptional circumstances.

The government said regular attendance was a “national priority” in an email circulated to schools which ran through existing policies.

It told headteachers attendance was important for the education and wellbeing of pupils, especially for those who were persistently absent before the Covid pandemic or at risk of becoming so.

It comes as the latest figures show 200,000 pupils in England were off school due to Covid-related reasons, including most of these with a suspected or confirmed case.

But absences linked to the pandemic that would be subject to headteacher approval must only be granted in exceptional circumstances, schools were reminded this week.

This is in line with normal rules for applications for children to spend time off school during term, which may be granted for family bereavements or mental health issues, for example.

In its email to schools this week, the government reiterated its position on the importance of regular attendance.

The government reminded headteachers the normal rules for granting permission for time of school continue to apply.

Applications for leave of absence can be made for “reasons arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic”, it said.

“Schools should only grant leaves of absence in exceptional circumstances,” the email said.

“If a leave of absence is agreed, it should only be for a specific period of time.”

It comes shortly after Nadhim Zahawi, the recently-appointed education secretary, promised to clamp down on “persistent absenteeism”.

At an education conference last weekend, he said pupils who lose out the most from not being in school are likely to be vulnerable, disadvantaged and "cope least".

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