Nearly a quarter of a million out of school due to Covid before half term, new Government data shows

Nearly a quarter of a million children were out of school in the week before half term as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, new Government data shows.

File photo dated 12/09/18 of students in a lesson at school. (PA)

The news comes as the chair of an influential committee of MPs is calling for Parliament to have to vote on any future shut down of schools, as pupils face a “widening attainment gap and a worsening mental health crisis”.

Figures from the Department for Education suggest that around 248,000 children- or 3.2 per cent of all pupils - were not in class for Covid-related reasons in England on October 21.

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This includes 127,000 who had a confirmed case of Covid-19. Overall pupil attendance fell from 90% on October 14 to 88.2 per cent on October 21.

A week earlier it is estimated that 209,000 or 2.6 per cent of pupils were having to miss class because of the pandemic.

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A union boss has said the continuing absences are “wreaking havoc” for schools who are having to “juggle online and in-person learning for different groups of pupils at different times with fewer staff. It is an impossible situation."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We hope that the half-term break will have helped to reduce transmission of the virus and reduce disruption but even if this is the case it is likely to be only temporary”.

Meanwhile, chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon believes that MPs must have a say on any future school closures following the “disaster” of the last two years which has “wielded a hammer blow for students’ education and wellbeing”.

The MP for Harlow will introduce a Bill to Parliament which aims to redefine schools and other education settings as “essential infrastructure” much like hospitals and supermarkets.

It would introduce a so-called “triple lock” of protections for pupils, parents and teachers and will mean that any closure needs Parliamentary approval as well as that of other senior figures.

Speaking before the motion is due to be put to Parliament today, Mr Halfon said: “Whilst national lockdowns were important to protect the health of the public, school closures have been nothing short of a disaster for our children. These closures wielded a hammer blow for students’ education and wellbeing.

“Their effect was apocalyptic, threatening the futures of millions of pupils and students and stopping them climbing the ladder of opportunity.

“Even before the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils were already 18 months of learning behind their better-off peers by the time they took their GCSEs.

“Now, as a result of school closures, these pupils face a widening attainment gap and a worsening mental health crisis, numerous safeguarding hazards and diminished life chances.

A triple lock would require the Government to seek the advice of the Children’s Commissioner on whether any national or regional school closure is necessary and in the best interests of the pupils.