Covid UK: Less than three quarters of state secondary pupils stayed in lessons in week before Xmas


Less than three quarters of pupils were in secondary school classes the week before Christmas as the number of students in state schools across England plummeted, official figures show. 

Seventy-two per cent were in secondary school classes on December 16, down from 80 per cent the week before, according to the Department for Education.

Attendance in primary schools dropped from 89 per cent to 86 per cent over the same end of term period.

Between nine per cent and 11 per cent of pupils – up to 872,000 children – did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on December 16.

The number of pupils in schools plummeted to their lowest levels in London, dropping to 67 per cent from 80 per cent on December 10.  

The declining numbers occurred in the same week as the disputes between the Government and Left-wing councils and teaching unions over keeping schools open amid rising coronavirus cases.

On December 14, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson instructed Greenwich council to keep schools open to all pupils or face the threat of legal action.

Pupils at Rosshall Academy wear face coverings at a school in Glasgow, Scotland

A pupil uses a sanitising unit as students return to Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow

A pupil uses a sanitising unit as students return to Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow

On December 14, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Left-wing Greenwich council to keep schools open to all pupils or face the threat of legal action

On December 14, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Left-wing Greenwich council to keep schools open to all pupils or face the threat of legal action

Council leader Danny Thorpe told schools in the south-east London borough not to reopen for the final week of term on Sunday December 13 and instead to switch to remote learning.

But classrooms stayed open after Mr Williamson issued a temporary continuity direction to the London borough of Greenwich, as well as demanding it withdraw letters to head teachers and parents which advised the closures.

However, in Greenwich just 44 per cent of secondary school pupils and 50 per cent of primary pupils went to class on December 16, the figures show.

Secondary schools were ultimately forced to close last week as Boris Johnson plunged England into a third national lockdown.

No10 is now threatening to close nurseries, as well as impose Chinese-style curfews, outdoor mask mandates and 10ft social distancing.   

The south-west had the most children in school, with 87 per cent in total, but that had fallen from 89 per cent a week previously.

Figures show that in Thurrock, Essex, secondary school attendance was just 14 per cent on December 16, while in the London borough of Redbridge it was 17 per cent. 

Meanwhile in Kent, just over a third (34 per cent) of secondary school pupils attended class.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘At the end of last term we warned that attendance was likely to drop off a cliff as a result of the Government’s confused approach, and so it has proved. 

Pupils at Rosshall Academy wear face coverings at a school in Glasgow, Scotland

Pupils at Rosshall Academy wear face coverings at a school in Glasgow, Scotland

A lady walks past a social distance sign which is displayed outside a primary school in Newcastle Under Lyme, England as the country entered a third national lockdown

A lady walks past a social distance sign which is displayed outside a primary school in Newcastle Under Lyme, England as the country entered a third national lockdown

 

Calls to close nurseries 

Calls for nurseries across the country to close along with primary and secondary schools have been led in recent days by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Most infected children display no symptoms of coronavirus and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said today that the risk to children ‘is very low’.

But Sir Keir said nurseries ‘probably should be closed’, adding: ‘I think there is a case for looking at nursery schools, we’re talking to the scientists about that.’

Nursery industry body Early Years Alliance has urged the Government to explain how nurseries can be safe while primary schools must remain shut.

Schools are currently only open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, and there is a possibility this could be extended to nurseries.

However Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has insisted that it was important to keep nurseries open so children’s parents can still work.

‘In the absence of a distinct message from the Government, as expected, families clearly took their own decisions on what was safe, and they should not be blamed for that.

‘Despite repeated claims that children and young people are a national priority, the Government has routinely failed to take the right steps to preserve the quality of their education.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country worked extremely hard to remain open throughout the autumn term, implementing safety measures and providing remote education where children were self-isolating.

‘We are now keeping schools and colleges open to critical worker and vulnerable children and those protective measures remain in place to help protect staff and students, while the national lockdown helps reduce transmission in the wider community.’

It comes as up to 60 per cent of schools are currently full despite the national lockdown, according to a poll conducted by the National Association of Headteachers. 

One in 10 schools had between 40 and 60 per cent of students attending during the first week of the new lockdown – despite schools being closed to all but the children of key workers.

The union has now called on ministers to introduce a cap on the number of students allowed in school, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock also urging key workers to keep their children at home if possible.

The new NAHT poll also found that more than a third (34 per cent) of school leaders say they had 31 per cent or more of their normal roll attend school in person on Thursday.  

The Government’s ‘confused’ message to parents on school attendance risks defeating the national aim of suppressing the virus, the leader of the NAHT warned.

Pupils in schools and colleges in England – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February due to tighter restrictions.

Department for Education guidance currently says schools should not limit the number of children of key workers or vulnerable pupils on-site during lockdown, and only one parent needs to be a critical worker for their child to attend class – even if parents are working from home.

But it also says parents who are critical workers should keep their children at home ‘if they can’.

A separate Schools Infection Study from Public Health England (PHE), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), also published in December, found there were similar levels of infection in schools as in the community.

Teachers and pupils from 105 primary and secondary schools were tested at the peak of the second wave in November when they did not have any coronavirus symptoms – which means they were tracked in a normal daily school environment.

The findings showed that 1.24 per cent of pupils and 1.29 per cent of staff overall tested positive for current infection – similar to the 1.2 per cent reported in the community. 

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