Commenting on the latest attendance figures published by the Department for Education, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“The latest figures on school absence add to an ever-more compelling argument that Government needs to be vastly more assertive in its efforts to futureproof schools against the effects of Covid outbreaks. They are shocking numbers.

“The challenge is not going away, so Gavin Williamson must now take steps to expand school space, increase staff numbers and help us maintain social distancing. Instead he is ostrich-like, producing increasingly bizarre responses to attendance statistics that insist black is white and all is well. This is plainly not true. He is also completely out of touch if he thinks that exams can continue as normal next year, even with a three-week delay of now vanishing relevance, or that Ofsted inspections should recommence in January.

“At a critical moment, the education profession is faced with a Department intent on making life more difficult for schools and young people. Last week’s decision to ration laptops for disadvantaged children, while at the same time putting a legal duty on schools to provide remote learning for those who need to isolate, is shameful. Gavin Williamson is making no serious effort to fix problems of his creation, nor does he support schools in a way that is fitting in a time of crisis. To refuse to provide free school meals in half term is a further insult.”