The number of children off school in England due to Covid-related reasons has seen a sharp rise over the past two weeks, figures show.
The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 2.6% of all pupils - more than 208,000 children - were not in the classroom for reasons connected to Covid-19 on 25 November, which was up from more than 130,000 children, or 1.6% of all pupils, on 11 November.
This comes as teachers and pupils in secondary schools in England are now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi recommended that staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear masks in communal areas in schools, colleges and universities such as corridors, canteens and halls in England from Monday (29 November).
Figures show that among pupils out of class for reasons related to coronavirus on Thursday last week, the main reason for absence was a confirmed case of Covid.
Approximately 105,600 pupils in England were off due to having Covid, up from 66,800 on 11 November, and approximately 79,300 children were off school with a suspected case, which is up from around 50,500.
About 12,200 pupils were also absent due to isolation for other reasons, which is up from around 9,100 on 11 November.
The Government figures also show that a further 9,700 pupils were off due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak, up from around 3,700, with overall pupil attendance falling from 91.5% on 11 November to 89.3% on 25 November.
The DfE also estimated that 2% of teachers and school leaders were absent from schools due to Covid-19 related reasons on 25 November, up from 1.4% on 11 November.
‘We have repeatedly called for more Government support for schools and colleges’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is clear from these figures that the reduction in Covid-related pupil and staff absence after half-term has been short-lived and that this disruption has risen very sharply once again.”
He said: “The emergence of the Omicron variant seems likely to make this situation worse.
“We have repeatedly called for more Government support for schools and colleges in addressing these extreme pressures.
“The Government must do much more to publicly promote the importance of twice-weekly lateral flow home testing among eligible pupils, fully fund air cleaning units for schools and colleges, and properly resource the on-site testing it has asked secondary schools to provide at the start of the spring term.”