Blackpool teachers had one of England's lowest absence rates before Christmas due to Covid-19

Teachers in Blackpool had one of the lowest rates of absence in England because of coronavirus just before Christmas, new figures reveal.

By James Graves
Friday, 22nd January 2021, 2:31 pm

But the Association of School and College Leaders said the past few months of the pandemic had put English schools under “enormous pressure”, calling for education staff to be prioritised for the vaccine.

Department for Education figures show six teachers and school leaders in Blackpool state schools were absent with either a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 on December 17.

There were also six forced to isolate.

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Blackpool teachers had one of the lowest absence rates in England - Image: PA

This means 12 were off for Covid-19 related reasons on just one day – 1.4 per cent of all teachers in schools that remained open.

This was down from 1.8 per cent on the same day the week before, and 5.7 per cent on October 15, the first date the survey was conducted.

It was also one of the lowest rates in England, but ahead of Torbay, in Devon, which saw 0.5 per cent of teachers absent due to Covid-19. At the other end of the scale, the London borough of Havering had a rate of 17.9 per cent.

On December 17, all schools that responded to the survey in Blackpool were open, after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened one council with legal action to prevent it closing schools.

Across England, 4.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent because of coronavirus on what was the last day of term for many schools.

It is not known how many teachers in schools that had closed and moved to online-only lessons had coronavirus at the time, so the figures are likely to be under-estimates.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “The level of staff absence as a result of coronavirus is obviously affected by local infection rates, and the turbulence of the past few months has put schools under enormous pressure.

"It shows why it is important that the Government prioritises education staff in phase two of the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme.

"This will provide reassurance to staff and it will minimise further disruption when schools are fully open again."

Pupils in schools and colleges – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February amid the lockdown.

And England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries suggested that a regional approach may be taken when schools do reopen.

Asked by the Commons’ Education Select Committee whether there could be a regional or phased reopening, Dr Harries said: “I think it’s likely that we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions.”

The DfE figures also show 14 (1.3 per cent) teaching assistants and other school staff in Blackpool were absent for coronavirus-related reasons on December 17.

Of them, four had a confirmed case of the disease, and 10 were isolating.

Coun Kath Benson, Blackpool Council's cabinet member for schools, education and aspiration, said the absence figures were 'great news' and gave thanks to school employees for their cooperation.

She said: "We know from working with the schools just how hard everyone has worked to ensure that educational settings are as safe as they can possibly be. The collaborative effort between schools and our infection control team has played a huge role in ensuring that the schools are COVID-secure.

"Everyone is pulling together to make sure the right measures are in place – this not only includes infection control protocols such as the operation of bubbles and the following of isolation guidance, but also communicating openly and ensuring that pupils, parents and carers remain informed.

"As a council, we will continue to offer our support every step of the way, including continuing weekly support calls with both our Director of Children's Services and Director of Public Health, as well as providing round the clock access to any public health support that is required.

"We continue to encourage testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic staff, and are on hand to offer immediate assistance if any cases are identified."

The National Association of Head Teachers said the new figures show every school is experiencing the impact of Covid-19 differently, and therefore it was a sensible idea to reopen areas at different speeds.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, added: "If that is the Government’s plan, then we would urge them to provide clarity sooner rather than later on the local conditions that will need to be met.

"This will give vital time to prepare and enable a smoother reopening of schools and businesses.”

A DfE spokeswoman said the Government will keep plans for the return to school under review, but will work to reopen them as soon as possible.