One in 12 teachers in England was absent from classrooms in the first week of the spring term as the Omicron coronavirus variant caused an increase in cases in schools and disrupted education for hundreds of thousands of pupils.
The Department of Education’s figures released on Tuesday showed that 8.6 percent of teachers and school leaders, or 44,000 people, were absent from schools that opened January 6, compared with 8 percent on December 16. absent due to Covid, from 3 percent on December 16th.
When students returned to the classroom in September, 1 percent of teachers were off for Covid-related reasons, and 3.4 percent were off in total.
Government figures showed that the absenteeism rate was similar among teaching assistants and other school workers, who left more than 105,000 staff members out of the classroom on 6 January.
The increased staff absenteeism rate has left school leaders struggling to provide enough teachers and some have warned of further disruption as Omicron continues.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “any hope that the Christmas holiday will serve as a fire pit for schools and colleges” has “evaporated” this week.
“There is still great disruption,” he said. “The challenges faced by so many staff will continue to put schools and colleges under severe pressure.”
In light of higher-than-usual absences, some schools have redeployed other staff to cover classes, combined classes, or relocate learning online. Provisioning agencies and school leaders said the demand for backup staff to cover absences exceeded supply.
Separate figures released Tuesday by the Oak National Academy, a national resource for online lessons, showed that demand rose last week with 139,000 users logging on to the platform last Wednesday, compared to a daily average of 40 000 mid-December.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said “making sure all children and young people can attend school or college” remains his “number one priority.”
In light of shortages, the government last year called on former teachers to step in by joining supply agencies. Figures released on Tuesday showed that at least 585 teachers volunteered, but noted that it was not possible to confirm exact data.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said while it was “great” to see teachers move forward, the number is a “drop in the ocean” compared to the scale of the challenge facing be stared at ”.
Survey data from the union showed “significant variation” in absenteeism rates, he added, with more than 20 percent of staff down in a “small but growing number” of schools.
Official statistics also showed that more than 314,000 children were out of school on January 6 due to the virus, equivalent to 3.9 percent of the population, compared to 3.7 percent at the end of last year.
Natalie Perera, chief executive of the Education Policy Institute, a think tank, said “acute staff shortages” were likely to “continue for some time” and that the government should consider more support, such as funding for provision teachers.
“We need to see education interventions that are well-targeted in the areas that are most affected,” she said.