Commenting on a summary of attendance in education settings in 25 November, published today, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"The autumn term was always going to be a challenge for schools and colleges, as the coronavirus continued to circulate through the community. The new variant threatens to undo the hard work that teachers, support staff and their leaders have done to keep education going. Today's attendance figures show that the half-term fall in case rates was only temporary. Covid-related absences are on the rise in both primary and secondary, and among teachers and school staff. Around 1 in 40 pupils were absent on 25 November, up from 1 in 60 two weeks prior.
"Boris Johnson must for once be willing to learn lessons from Scotland where the evidence is now clear that more stringent guidance can make a big difference in keeping case rates down in schools. In Scotland masks are required in secondary classrooms, as is the isolation of very close contacts until a negative PCR. The NEU supports both strategies. Vaccinations are significantly higher, too, with 55% having received a jab in Scotland compared to 41% in England. As a result of these efforts, the infection rate in Scotland among under-15s is falling, whereas in England it has been steadily rising since the return to school after half term. Wales has now also adopted masks in secondary classrooms.
"Throughout the pandemic the union has been on the side of what keeps schools safe and open. It is clear that vaccines, ventilation and vigilance remain the essential tools with which we will get through the winter. You keep children in school by reducing the rates of Covid in schools, rates which have a highly consequential impact on families and the wider community. The speeding up of vaccinations and boosters will certainly help, but it is clear that stronger school guidance will make an even bigger difference in keeping case rates down. We call on the Prime Minister to follow the examples of Scotland and Wales."