State schools harder hit by Covid-related staff absences – Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust reports that state sector schools face significantly higher staffing shortages, with absent pupils less likely to have access to remote learning devices

The start of term has seen independent schools significantly less affected by Covid-related staff absences than those in the state sector, according to a new report from the Sutton Trust.

Twenty per cent of state schools reported teacher absence rates of one in 10 or higher, compared to 12% of private schools, according to the research undertaken by Teacher Tapp. The figure rose to 29% in state sector schools in the most deprived areas.

“It is understandable that disruption caused by staff absence is lower in independent schools as they often have smaller class sizes and this is likely to reduce the risk of transmission to other pupils and staff,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“State schools serving the most disadvantaged communities tend to be located in urban areas where infection rates are often higher.”

Almost one in 10 teachers in state schools said colleagues were unable to come in due to a lack of PCR or lateral flow tests. Again, the figure was higher in more disadvantaged areas.

Twenty-eight per cent said that non-teaching staff were having to cover the classes of absent teachers, with 8% reporting that more than one class was being taught together.

This report is further evidence that pupils from more deprived backgrounds are being hit hardest by coronavirus – Kevin Courtney, NEU

The state sector is also facing challenging issues around absent pupils, with 20% of schools reporting that more than one in 10 of their isolating students still don’t have access to devices for remote learning. The figure almost doubles in the most deprived schools.

“This report is further evidence that pupils from more deprived backgrounds are being hit hardest by coronavirus,” said Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU).

“Boris Johnson is presiding over rapidly growing social divides. The roll-out of laptops was unforgivably slow, making remote learning harder for pupils, parents and teachers alike.

“Every classroom that needs an air purifier should be supplied with one to ensure staff and pupils’ health and keep absences as low as possible. It simply isn’t good enough to rely on a workforce of retired teachers appearing from thin air.”

The Sutton Trust is calling on the government to “urgently ensure that all pupils have access to a device for remote learning and that schools have adequate funding to pay for cover for absent staff”. They add that the current situation “strengthens the case for a more comprehensive education recovery plan, with support targeted at disadvantaged pupils who have been hit hardest by the pandemic”.

“We must do all we can to ensure that poorer pupils are not further disadvantaged as a result of this disruption,” said Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust.

“As more pupils move to remote learning again, all pupils must have the resources they need to learn from home. The most important thing for the government to do is to strengthen existing education recovery and make sure sufficient funding is being provided to cover absent staff.”

In related news: Sutton Trust study highlights digital divide

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