Coronavirus: Back to school attendances 'normal' in England as survey rubbishes fears of boycott

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster

Fears of parents keeping their children out of schools over coronavirus appear unfounded after a survey found this week's back-to-school attendances hit the normal September levels.

Schools across England have recorded attendances between 91-100% - an average year is 93% due to lags of holiday - rubbishing fears that thousands of parents would keep their children home in order to protect them from Covid-19.

Staff attendance is also between 91-100%, a survey of 849 schools by union the National Association of Head Teachers, revealed.

A survey question on behalf of ITV News revealed just 83% of schools surveyed received Covid-19 home testing kits and 14% did not, despite a government pledge that all schools would receive home testing kits.

The statistics appear to show the impact of coronavirus on school attendance has been minimal during the first week back for students, many of whom have not been in a classroom for five months.

Only one in five (21%) school leaders said that they had a pupil in their school who did not attend because their parents felt too anxious to send their child to school.

20% of school leaders said they had a pupil in their school who did not attend on the first day because they are self-isolating following exposure to coronavirus.

The top three reasons reported by school leaders for the small percentage of pupils not attending school on the first day were:

  • Pupils are quarantining following a trip abroad (57 per cent)

  • Pupils are still away on holiday (50 per cent)

  • Pupils are unwell (non-coronavirus related) (41 per cent)

Just 83% of schools surveyed received Covid-19 home testing kits and 14% did not, despite a government pledge that they would be provided to all schools, a survey by the NAHT on behalf of ITV News revealed.

Of the 849 respondents, a majority were primary schools.

School leaders had said testing kits would be essential if schools were to identify outbreaks and implement mitigating measures, such as requiring a 14 day isolation period for those with a positive test and their close contacts.

Testing kits were only sent to schools in England on Wednesday (August 26) last week, just days before they were due to reopen.

The government website says: "From 26 August, all schools and FE providers will receive an initial supply of 10 home test kits."

The majority of children in the UK are now back at school after Boris Johnson said it was a priority to get them back learning. Credit: Number 10

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary said: "Despite the government’s U-turns and last minute changes, schools have stuck to their task and their efforts have clearly given confidence to parents and families.”

It has also been revealed in a government study that there were "very few" coronavirus infections at preschools and primary schools from June 1 to mid-July, when some but not all young pupils were in school.

The study carried out by Public Health England found that where there was a positive case, there were no additional infections within the household, class bubble or wider education setting when tested.

The Covid-19 Surveillance in School KIDs (sKIDs) study included two arms: weekly nasal swabs for at least four weeks and blood sampling with nasal and throat swabs at the beginning (early June) and end of half-term (mid-July).

A total of 12,026 participants in 131 schools had 43,039 swabs taken.

The study concluded that coronavirus infection and transmission rates "were low in preschool and primary schools under surveillance".

On the NAHT survey, Mr Whiteman said it is a "remarkable achievement" that schools have been able to welcome back such a high majority of pupils.

“Obviously for some, the anxiety of coronavirus means that they do not feel able to send their children to school.

"Schools will work compassionately with these families, and they should not be shamed or fined, which is why we are re-stating our appeal to the government to take the threat of fines off the table. These figures show that it’s an unnecessary sanction."