Pandemic led to 270 million missed school days – prompting fears over exams

Headteachers say the figure reveals the disruption youngsters taking exams have faced during the pandemic.

24 March 2022

A total of 270 million school days were missed because of Covid-19 in the first year of the pandemic, new figures showed, prompting fears over the impact on exam results in 2022.

In the 2020/21 academic year, over 328 million days were missed due to absence, of which 270 million were missed for coronavirus-related reasons, figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) revealed on Thursday.

Overall, over a fifth of school days (21.3%) were missed owing to Covid-19.

In 2018/19, just 59.6 million days were missed.

The DfE said absence rates for 2020/21 which were not coronavirus-related were comparable with previous years.

The number of persistently absent pupils rose in 2020/21, with 10.8% of pupils missing 10% or more possible sessions in 2018/19 compared with 12.1% in 2020/21, the data also showed.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary for the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “These figures show just how much disruption children and young people have had to contend with due to the pandemic. This level of absence cannot help but have impacted on the delivery of education, despite everyone’s best efforts.”

He said while some year groups may have had more time to catch up, “those facing exams and assessments this year are under a lot of pressure”.

He said: “GCSE and A-Level students haven’t had a single normal year of their courses.”

Mr Whiteman said many schools are still finishing the teaching of exam specifications, with time “getting very tight” for teacher-led revision sessions or exam preparation work.

“Many students and teachers feel more could be done to allow for this disruption,” he said.

“And there is no acknowledgement at all of the disruption to learning pupils have faced in primary schools – the Government plans for Sats to go ahead as though it is a normal year, when the past few years have been anything but normal.

“It is imperative that disruption is minimised going forward. The most recent attendance figures show rising absence rates for pupils again and a worrying jump in the number of confirmed Covid cases.

“The Government needs to come up with a proper plan for how to live with Covid long-term that is focused on keeping case levels low and reducing disruption. More missed learning now could be seriously damaging to pupils’ exam chances and education recovery.”

Levels of coronavirus-related pupil absence in state schools in England has more than tripled in a fortnight, attendance figures released on Tuesday showed.

In total, 201,600 pupils were off for Covid-related reasons on March 17, up from 58,000 on March 3.

And an estimated 9.1% of teachers and school leaders were absent on March 17, up from 5.8% on March 3.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The improvement in the picture we saw in the national data in early March has proved to be a false dawn, unfortunately.”

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