SCHOOL attendance in England dropped in the week before half-term amid concerns over the Delta variant of Covid.

Around 88 per cent of state school pupils were in class on May 27, down from 91 per cent on May 20, according to the Department for Education (DfE) statistics.

The DfE estimates that approximately 1.8 per cent of all pupils, around 139,000 children, on roll did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on May 27, a figure that was 1.3 per cent the previous week.

The data suggests that 116,000 pupils were out of class and self-isolating across England on May 27 due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus, a rise from 82,000 the previous week.

The figures come after health secretary Matt Hancock urged pupils returning to class this week to get tested to ensure they are not carrying the virus.

School leaders’ unions are calling on the Government to be cautious before any further easing of Covid-19 restrictions and to be proactive to ensure that transmission in schools does not “proceed unchecked”.

On the week before half-term, 90,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the school, up from 60,000 on May 20, a rise of 50 per cent.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We are clearly now seeing the impact of the Delta variant feeding through into these statistics, and this is reflected by the fact that absence is highest in areas that have been worst affected by the variant.

“This means that many pupils are having to self-isolate in line with Covid protocols and will be experiencing yet more disruption.”

He added: “This situation highlights the fact that the utmost caution is needed in the weeks ahead before any further easing of Covid restrictions, and the current measures must also be kept under review to see if any other actions are immediately required.

“In the longer term, this continued disruption provides yet more evidence of the need for the Government to put forward a much more ambitious education recovery plan than it has so far managed.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We are hearing from our members that more and more schools are having to close multiple classes or ‘bubbles’, particularly in areas with higher case numbers, and revert to remote learning.

“One school told us that though they were not officially closed, six of their seven year groups were isolating due to Covid.”

He added: “The Government must be proactive to ensure that transmission in schools, particularly in relation to the new variant, is not allowed to proceed unchecked.

“We must not sleepwalk into further widespread disruption to education.

“We would urge the Government to do everything necessary to protect school communities.”

Labour’s Peter Kyle, shadow minister for schools, said: “Today’s shocking new data demonstrates the Government once again failing to keep our children learning in school, with those in the North West hit the hardest.

“Over the last year, the Conservatives have ignored Labour’s calls for Covid security measures in schools, from proper testing to Nightingale classrooms, and the resources to make schools Covid secure.

“Now it’s children and families in the North West who are paying the price.”

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