Number of state schools not fully open rises due to Covid-19 cases
Nearly one in five state secondary schools were unable to fully open last week – and most were due to Covid-related reasons, figures show.
The proportion of state schools that were fully open has dropped, but pupil attendance has risen slightly, according to the Department for Education’s (DfE) latest statistics.
It comes as education unions call for students due to take their GCSE and A-level exams next year to be prioritised for Covid-19 testing to reduce “ongoing disruption” to their learning.
Around 82% of state secondary schools were fully open on October 1 – down from 84% a week earlier.
Schools are considered to be not fully open if they are unable to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils for the whole school day and have asked a group of students to self-isolate.
Overall, approximately 92% of state schools were fully open, down from 93% on September 24.
The cause of schools not being fully open was mostly “due to Covid-19 related reasons”, the DfE said.
However, pupil attendance increased in secondary schools from approximately 84% to 86%.
About 90% of pupils in all state schools were in attendance, up from 88% a week earlier.
We remain concerned that schools lack the support from the Government that they need in this challenging task
The DfE suggested that groups of pupils being asked to self-isolate “are becoming smaller”.
It comes as an Ofsted report warned that many heads saw the lack of availability of Covid-19 testing as “a real barrier” to staying up and running.
The report – based on 121 pilot visits to schools across England last month – said: “Leaders of some small schools described how quickly their school might have to close if staff could not get tested when they needed to, though this fear was shared by schools of all sizes.”
On the latest DfE statistics, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Too often groups are having to be sent home whilst schools wait days for results to come through.
“We need to remember that we are still only at the beginning of autumn and if government doesn’t get a handle on the situation quickly, these figures are likely to get worse as we move into the colder months ahead.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “This is the second week of a downward trend in the number of fully open secondary schools, and means that since September 17 the number that are fully open has fallen by 10% from 92% to 82%.
“It reflects the extremely tough circumstances in which schools are operating due to the impact of Covid.
“We remain concerned that schools lack the support from the Government that they need in this challenging task.
“The Government must redouble its efforts to improve the Covid testing system, and ensure that schools are supported by clear and consistent guidance.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The vast majority of schools are open, as has been consistently the case since the start of term, with a 2% increase in the numbers of pupils attending to more than 7.4 million pupils last week.
“Attendance in fully open primary schools is now consistent with what we would have expected before coronavirus.
“We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”