@UKLabour will use an Urgent Question in the House of Commons today [Wednesday] to demand the Government act to keep children in school and prevent further disruption in September after new data shows one in twenty children were out of school last week.
Labour is also demanding clarity over how the 1.74 million children eligible will receive free school meals this summer holiday if self-isolation requirements mean they are unable to attend the Holiday Activities and Food Programme.
Last week over 110,000 primary age children on free school meals were absent from school, raising concerns that children could miss out on meals if they have to isolate and keep away from the holiday programmes. Labour have previously called for the families of all children eligible to free school meals to receive cash transfers in the school holidays throughout the pandemic.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green MP, will warn that the Government’s failure to get border controls in place has let the Delta variant take hold leaving children exposed to damaging disruption to their education.
With only nine weeks to go until the next academic year starts, she will warn that a plan for keeping children learning needs to be set out urgently.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:
“Ministers shambolic mismanagement of our borders has left children’s education exposed to damaging disruption from the Delta variant.
“With over 110,000 primary children on free school meals missing out on school last week we urgently need to know what support will be in place this summer holiday to ensure self-isolation does not mean children missing out on meals.
“Protecting our children’s education should be the Government’s top priority but once again Ministers have been content to sit on the sidelines as schools fight to keep children learning. Ministers cannot wait until September, action must be taken now.”
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to new data showing pupils on free school meals were 1.3 times more likely to be off school in the Autumn Term than their peers, said:
“The Conservatives have abandoned children on free school meals and are letting their learning fall further behind their peers.
“Their woeful catch-up plans - which even their own expert adviser described as 'feeble' - are utterly insufficient to help children recover the education and socialising they've missed.
“Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan would give every child new opportunities and learning support, with targeted academic help for those who’ve missed out the most. It’s time for the Government to match Labour’s ambition for our children and their futures.”
Commenting on the Labour Party’s call for clarity over free school meal provision during the summer holidays, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The public have made their support for ensuring children receive school meals in the holidays and during the pandemic really clear. More than one million people signed Marcus Rashford’s petition last year calling on Government to expand eligibility and access to Free School Meals.
'The Government is allowing many disadvantaged children and young people to fall through the gaps. All families who are entitled to Free School Meal support need access to a system of cash or vouchers to ensure that they can access food for their child. All eligible children must be able to access food and nutrition during the school holidays.
'The Government's neglect of children and young people most in need has been shocking during this pandemic. The DfE just must get better at planning ahead and making arrangements that work well for schools and families. We need the DfE to act now, before the end of term, to clarify arrangements for the summer holidays in terms of access to meals”
Approximately 89% of all pupils eligible for FSM on roll in state-funded primary schools were in attendance on 24 June, down from 91% on 17 June.
There are 1,008,164 pupils in state funded primary schools on free school meals
1,008,164 * 0.89 = 897,266 this means there were 110,898 primary pupils on free school meals out of school last week
In a letter to the Education Secretary on Tuesday 29 June (see below), Labour called for an immediate and transparent review of the current guidance on bubbles in schools, ensure the parents and carers of children out of school know that they have a right to be furloughed, to take steps to ensure schools have the capacity for any testing necessary to keep children in the classroom, and to take mitigating measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus in school.
Labour have called for free school meal provision to be extended over the school holidays throughout the pandemic, with families receiving a cash transfer to meet the cost, trusting parents and supporting them to provide for their children.
Pupils eligible for FSM had 8.5% of sessions recorded as not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus, compared to 6.6% for pupils not eligible for FSM. This is equivalent to 1.3 times more likely to be off school.
24.1% of FSM eligible pupils were persistently absent in Autumn 2020, compared to 9.6% of pupils not eligible for FSM. In Autumn 2019 the rates were 23.8% and 10.5%.
Labour demands action to keep kids learning new data shows 375,000 children are missing school and catch-up plans branded ‘feeble’
29th Jun 2021: Labour is demanding urgent action to keep children in school and deliver a proper education recovery plan as new data shows 375,000 pupils were out of school due last week and the Government’s former education tsar brands ‘catch-up’ plans as “feeble”.
Renewed disruption to children’s learning comes as Sir Kevan Collins – the Government’s former education expert advisor - laid into Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson for failing to deliver a recovery plan that supports learning and wellbeing.
The Conservatives’ failure to control our borders has let the Delta variant take hold in the UK, forcing children out of their classrooms and away from their friends. This is on top of the 115 days of in-person school children have already missed.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green MP has written to Gavin Williamson urging that a review of self-isolation guidance is taken now, warning that delaying measures until September risks leaving parents, schools and pupils experiencing ongoing disruption throughout the final four weeks of this school year.
As well as calling for review of self-isolation guidance, Labour says the Education Secretary must look again at things like ventilation and face masks in schools, urging him to “do everything possible to keep children in school”.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary said:
“The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout this pandemic and Kevan Collins is right to describe their plans as ‘feeble’.
“Parents and schools are crying out for help and they’re just not getting it. The Government cannot simply wait until September to act on self-isolation and other measures we have been calling for.
“Ministers must work with their expert scientific advisers now to review the bubbles system ahead of the summer holidays to ensure as many children can be in the classroom as possible.”
375,000 pupils were out of school on 24 June according to Department for Education data.
24,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus, 0.3% of pupils on roll in open schools
15,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, 0.2% of pupils on roll in open schools
279,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from inside the educational setting, 3.8% of pupils on roll in open schools
57,000 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus from outside the educational setting, 0.8 % of pupils on roll in open schools
Full text of Kate Green’s letter to the Education Secretary
Last week the number of children out of school due to Covid-19 has increased to 375,000, up from less than 100,000 two weeks previously.
With children having missed well over half a year of in-person school your former education commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins has called your recovery proposals ‘feeble’. Will you now accept that you must do more to help every child bounce back from the pandemic and will you adopt the measures set out in Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan on learning and wellbeing which would help every child bounce back from the pandemic and reach their potential.
Parents and school staff are crying out for help but have heard nothing from you or your department about how you will tackle this renewed impact of Covid on children and young people, and support parents who are once again having to juggle caring for their children at home with work and other commitments.
The government’s neglect of children throughout this pandemic and negligence in letting the Delta variant take hold in the UK, have led to hundreds of thousands of children being driven from their classrooms. This is a betrayal of the education staff, parents and pupils who have worked tirelessly to keep our education system going over the last 16 months.
Your refusal to work with and support the education system has led to children missing an average of 115 days of in-person schooling, well over half a normal school year. The impact of this on children’s learning and on social and emotional development is severe and will only get worse if the government does not act urgently to prevent increasing numbers of children being forced out of their classrooms.
Given the huge uncertainty and concerns facing families and hardworking education staff across the country, I urge you to do everything practical to keep children in school, and follow the advice of Sage members who are saying the current system must change. I hope that you will now answer the following questions urgently.
The Government must urgently work with scientific advisors to review the system of bubbles in schools and the requirements around self-isolation. Waiting until September to act on this is not sufficient when rates are rising now and we must keep children in school for the final four weeks of term.
Instead of drip-feeding information, schools also need clear, guidance on the process for September urgently so they can put plans in place ahead of the summer holidays.
Where pupils do have to self-isolate, guidance has been clear that parents can be furloughed if they are unable to work due to childcare commitments, but this is not something that the government have made sufficiently clear to parents. Will you commit to working with employers and unions to make this clear to the parents who are affected?
In the week to 16 June, just a fifth of school pupils took a lateral flow test. This has fallen consistently since the return to school on 8 March. What steps is the government taking to increase the uptake of testing this term and in light of increased case rates?
It has also been reported that the Schools Improvement Minister has written to schools advising them to prepare for the return of in-school testing in September. What support will schools get to deliver this testing on site? In January and March, school leaders and teachers warned of personnel shortages if they had to test all pupils in school regularly. What steps are you taking to ensure no school has to divert teaching capacity onto testing?
Time and again throughout this pandemic Labour has proposed measures which could have helped keep more pupils in school, from calling for nightingale classrooms, better guidance on ventilation, priority for PCR testing. Time and again the government have dismissed, implemented too late without proper planning, or simply ignored these proposals. The Government must do everything possible to support schools to prevent ongoing damage to children’s educations.
What steps is your department taking to support schools in making their premises Covid-secure and will you review your decision to cut the funding available to help schools cover the costs of implementing these mitigations? Will you also publish the latest advice on the wearing of facemasks in schools and explain why you removed the guidance on the wearing of masks in classrooms?
I have written to you throughout this pandemic urging you to take further action to support schools to keep children learning. Education staff, parents and pupils have risen to the challenges of this pandemic, but they have done this in spite of your government. I do not believe that you understand or appreciate the immense pressure that staff, students and parents have faced. Your government has added to that pressure through a combination of poor planning and incompetence. I hope you will now finally give young people the support the deserve and get a plan in place immediately to stop the rise in school absences. I look forward to your response.
Kate Green MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education
Drop in school attendance due to Covid
29th Jun 2021: As the government releases its latest school attendance data which shows that "Covid-related pupil absence in state schools is increasing and is currently at its highest rate since schools reopened in March 2021",
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said:
“We are continuing to see a clear and concerning increase in both the number of cases of Covid-19 and the number of pupils needing to self-isolate as a result. Leaders are reporting that this is having a real impact in their schools, and that the level of disruption is now very high.
“The government simply does not appear to have a grip on this situation and there is a real concern that we will continue to see these numbers continue to rise in the coming weeks.
“Schools are operating under enormous pressure and are working incredibly hard to continue to ensure that all the safety measures recommended by government remain in place, and to deliver uninterrupted education for all pupils but they are coming under increasing strain.
“It is essential that local public health teams are given the freedom to react quickly and put additional precautions in place where this is necessary – seeking central government approval for such action only risks delaying the necessary measures being put in place. Guidance on issues such as face coverings must be kept under constant review in light of the rapidly changing data, and there is much more the government could do on other protective measures such as ventilation too.
“We also need to remember that some younger teachers will not have had both their vaccinations yet and the mitigations in place in schools remain extremely important for the whole community.”
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"The continued sharp rise in Covid-related pupil absences risks leaving plans for the end of the school year in tatters. New figures show that 6.2% of secondary pupils and 4.5% of primary pupils were not in school on 24 June due to suspected or confirmed Covid, exposure to positive cases or school/bubble closures. These figures have quadrupled in just two weeks and will be significantly worse in areas with high case numbers. If absences continue to increase, some parts of the country will see schools in de facto rota operation before the end of term.
"Pupils have missed so much valuable face-to-face education in the past 15 months, and it is heart-breaking that so many will now miss end of year trips, transitions to new classes or schools, and a chance to say goodbye to friends and teachers. The NEU has consistently called for the reinstatement of masks in classrooms and mass testing, but once again the Government is reacting late to a crisis rather than anticipating and trying to prevent one.
"NEU members have worked tirelessly all year to continue children’s education in the most trying circumstances and are now being exposed to the virus once again due to Government inaction. 2.5% of teachers and 2.4% of support staff were absent for Covid-related reasons on 24 June, up from 0.9% and 0.7% two weeks previously. Again, figures will be much higher in harder-hit parts of the country, and many of these education professionals are facing daily exposure to the virus without the double vaccination that would give them adequate protection against the Delta variant.
"The Government are once again asleep at the wheel. Schools and colleges follow guidance in good faith and suffer the consequences of doing so. There are more stringent measures that could be brought in right now, and it is a mystery as to why Gavin Williamson continues to do nothing.
"The Government are pursuing a policy of compulsory masks and much greater mass testing in areas with the highest number of cases. Like with the tier system, everywhere will eventually fall under these regulations and so it would be much better if the Government made this a national policy now."
Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak – 23 March 2020 to 24 June 2021
A summary of attendance in education and early years settings 23 March 2020 to 24 June 2021.
Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak – 23 March 2020 to 24 June
The data on explore education statistics shows attendance in education settings since Monday 23 March 2020, and in early years settings since Thursday 16 April 2020. The summary explains the responses for a set time frame.
The data is collected from a daily education settings status form and a weekly local authority early years survey.
Previously published data and summaries are available at attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.