22nd January 2021

COVID-related teacher and pupil absences in England over 2020 autumn term

EPI has published new analysis of school absences among teachers and pupils due to testing positive for COVID during the autumn term.

The research shows that teacher absences due to a confirmed case of coronavirus were significantly higher than those of pupils – COVID absence rates for teachers (those with the virus, not merely those self-isolating) were 6 times higher than pupils in primary schools, while they were up to 3 times higher in secondary schools.

Teacher absence rates due to contracting COVID ranged significantly across the country: in Bury, Hartlepool, Thurrock, Calderdale, Blackburn and Salford, 2-3% of all ​secondary school teachers were absent during the autumn term due to a confirmed case of the virus, while close to zero were in the Isle of Wight and Herefordshire. In contrast, there was far less local variation in pupil absences.

Typically, as the rate of confirmed cases amongst pupils rose across local authorities, the rate of confirmed cases amongst teachers began to increase at a much faster rate. This could be because of increased infections in school, or because teachers are more susceptible to rising infections in the wider community. 

The analysis also indicates that it is very likely that more teachers had a confirmed case of COVID than the wider adult population. However, more government data is needed in order to substantiate this.

 

You can download the analysis paper here.


Key findings

 

  • Around 0.5-0.9% of primary teachers were absent due to a confirmed COVID case during the autumn term – this is over 6 times higher than the share of primary school pupils absent due to a confirmed COVID case (0.05 to 0.15%).  
  • About 0.6-1.0% of secondary school teachers were absent due to a confirmed COVID case over the autumn term, which is up to 3 times higher than for secondary school pupils (0.2-0.3%).  
  • There is considerable variation among different areas of the country on teacher absences due to COVID. The average share of secondary school teachers that were absent due to a confirmed case over the autumn term ranged from close to zero in the Isle of Wight and Herefordshire, to up to 2% in Hartlepool, Thurrock, Calderdale, Blackburn and Salford, and up to 3% in Bury.  
  • In general, as the rate of confirmed cases amongst pupils increased across local authorities, the rate of confirmed cases amongst teachers increased at a much faster rate. This could be because of increased infections in school or because teachers are more susceptible to rising infections in the wider community.  
  • Based on the Department for Education’s absence data, ​it is highly likely that the share of teachers with a confirmed COVID case is higher than the wider adult population. However, updated ONS infection survey data on the relative risk by occupation is needed to confirm this (this was last updated ​for the period up to mid-October). Such data would inform debate on the relative merits of prioritising different occupations for vaccinations.


This report seeks to provide objective analysis on trends in COVID-related absences among teachers and pupils. It does not make recommendations on when to reopen schools or whether school staff should be prioritised for vaccinations.  

 


This research is supported by the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT).