Spiking Covid-related absences in county schools could 'seriously damage' exam grades, warn headteachers

'The government cannot just let Covid rip through schools. Learners need and deserve better than that,' says NAHT chief

By Kevin Nicholls
Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 12:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 1:15 pm

Teachers fear more Covid-related student absences in Northamptonshire schools will impact grades in this year's exams.

Latest government figures showed the number of pupils off school for reasons linked to the virus nationally rose to 201,600 on 17 March, nearly FOUR TIMES the figure of 45,100 a fortnight earlier.

However, concerns over absences also apply to staff as some 23 percent of all state schools in England had more than 15 percent of their teachers and school leaders absent, up from 11% on 3 March, the data shows.

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Headteachers fear a rise in Covid-related absences could impact upcoming exams for Northamptonshire students

The latest wave of cases among school-age children comes as pupils are preparing for GCSE, A-level and other exams in the summer term.

National figures reflect what is happening in Northamptonshire, according to school leaders union the National Association of Headteachers

General secretary, Paul Whiteman, said: "These figures are absolutely in line with what we have been hearing from our members.

"Covid cases have been spiking again in many schools over the past week or so – in line with the rising numbers nationally.

"Staff absence is once again a big concern – this data shows nearly one in 10 teachers and school leaders absent, which is as bad as the very start of term.

"Many schools are reporting that it is near impossible to find supply staff to cover and there is no doubt that this level of disruption has a negative impact on pupils. Right now, many school leaders are facing a huge challenge when it comes to maintaining educational provision."

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Numbers of new positive tests across Northamptonshire have more than doubled to around 6,000 a week since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his 'Living with Covid' plan on February 24, ending most of the remaining restrictions.

This included an end to the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive and also set out the government's plan to end free testing for most people.

Figures for Covid-related absences in county schools were included in a weekly Public Health surveillance report up until two weeks ago.

Mr Whitman added: “With exams looming for many students this is a very worrying time.

"Many schools are still finishing teaching the specifications as there has been so much disruption over the two years of exam courses – it is getting very tight for time already for teacher-led revision and exam preparation work.

"More disruption now could be seriously damaging to pupils’ exam chances and education recovery.”

“The government urgently needs to remind people that just because the legal requirement to isolate has been removed, there is still a duty to take appropriate action to reduce the spread of Covid – just like any other illness.

"Parents need to be clear on when they can send their children to school and when they need to stay at home.

“Removing free access to lateral flow tests at this point feels irresponsible. It will make tracking and controlling Covid almost impossible. There is a lot of anxiety from school leaders about what could happen once tests are unavailable.

“The government cannot just let Covid rip through schools. Learners need and deserve better than that.

"Covid hasn’t gone away and we need a proper plan for how to live with it long-term that is focused on keeping levels low and reducing disruption."

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