Parents should send their children into class over the last days of the summer term despite the possible risks that self-isolation could interfere with family holidays, the leader of a headteachers’ union has said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the union is “concerned” about families withdrawing their children to avoid them having to potentially self-isolate.
Mr Barton is encouraging pupils who are not ill or self-isolating to attend class as normal next week ahead of the summer break.
His comments come amid reports that families across the country are planning to keep their children off school in the final days of the term to avoid being asked to self-isolate during the summer holidays.
The latest Government figures suggest that Covid-related pupil absence in England hit a new record high since all students fully returned in March with more than 830,000 children out of school last week.
Mr Barton told the PA news agency: “We are concerned about parents keeping children at home over the last days of the summer term to avoid the risk of them being asked to self-isolate and this interfering with family holidays.
“We are not casting blame on parents because we understand the importance of holidays after such a torrid year, but we would encourage attendance where children are not ill or self-isolating.”
He added: “Schools are currently coping with very significant levels of pupil absence not only for Covid-related reasons but more generally.
“We are also hearing of more schools having to close because of spiralling Covid rates. It is a grim end to a highly disrupted academic year, and it is essential that the Government better supports schools and colleges in the autumn term to minimise further educational disruption.”
Current rules say that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.
About one in nine (11.2%) state school pupils did not attend class for Covid-19 related reasons on July 8, up from 8.5% on July 1 and 5.1% on June 24, according to Department for Education (DfE) statistics.
These include approximately 747,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 35,000 pupils with a suspected case of coronavirus and 39,000 with a confirmed case of Covid-19.
James Bowen, director of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We are picking up on reports of parents saying they will keep their child off school next week to avoid being asked to self-isolate during the school holidays.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said it will be up to individual schools and colleges as to whether they scrap the bubble system on Monday ahead of the summer holidays, following the move to Step 4 of the road map.
The Government has announced that from August 16, children in England will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid-19.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupils should be in school during term-time and should only be self-isolating if they are required to, either because they have tested positive, or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
“Children who are isolating must learn remotely from home. Schools should work with parents and carers where they have concerns about attendance.”