Coronavirus: School attendance plummeted after half-term in England

By Hannah Richardson
Education and social affairs reporter

Published
Image source, PA Media

School attendance plummeted after half-term in England, with rates as low as 77% in one region, official data reveals.

The Department for Education statistics show how the spread of the coronavirus pandemic around the country has hit education in every region this term.

The West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East took the biggest hit, before starting to recover in late November.

Now, schools in London and the South East are on a downward trajectory.

Attendance in all state secondaries and primaries started off well at the beginning of term, with a rate of about 88%.

It rose slightly over the next month, then dipped to about 83% in mid-November, before beginning to climb again.

Image source, Reuters

But secondary schools have fared much worse, with average attendance rates of 80% across England last week.

From mid-September until half-term, overall attendance was lowest in the North West, hovering around 85%.

After half-term, it was lowest in the North East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber, approaching or falling below 80% in mid-November.

And in the West Midlands, it dipped to about 77% - the lowest of any region.

Attendance was highest in the South West, South East and East throughout most of the autumn term but has fallen in the South East and East in recent weeks.

And in early December, it was lowest in London and the South East, showing how the virus had moved south.

The differing rates, could spark further calls for regional Covid disruption to be taken in to account when pupils face public exams in the summer.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the regional breakdown shows just what a profound impact the coronavirus has had on schooling in many areas.

'Unfair'

Digging further into the local detail, he said: "Hull has had less than 60% attendance in their secondary schools for much of the last half term.

"Rochdale averaged just 70% attendance in their secondary schools over the whole term."

He added that 90% of schools in Bury, Rotherham and Gateshead had pupils isolating.

"We cannot see how how it is fair on these pupils to sit exams under the same conditions in York or West Sussex where attendance averaged 90% over the term."

And he added that school staff were worried schools were now causing spread of the virus in the community.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was aware some areas of the country had faced more significant challenges than others and said the new programme of rapid testing would help keep more staff and young people safe.