Almost 30,000 children may have been missing school due to COVID-19 – latest figures have shown.
Of the approximate 200,000 children on roll at schools in Essex, more than 14 per cent were out of school as of last week – up from 2.9 per cent in October.
This is the highest percentage since schools opened in September, and is an increase from 9.4 per cent from the previous week.
These newest figures combine upper estimates of pupils that have confirmed or suspected cases of the virus, along with pupils self-isolating because of potential contact with a virus carrier and pupils in schools closed due to COVID-19.
The figures are based on reports from schools, with not all providing data, which are used to estimate numbers of children affected.
While many of these children will still be attending remote classes while isolating it is no substitute for the physical classroom, experts have warned.
The increase in absences comes after the school lockout of pupils between the start of the pandemic and the beginning of the school year in September.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector at Ofsted, said: “While remote education is better than nothing, it’s no substitute for the classroom.
“Schools are struggling to assess whether remote learning is effective or not.
“For many, the measure of success is whether or not children are engaging with the work at all, rather than whether they are developing their knowledge and understanding – a case of remote attendance, rather than remote learning.”
But she commended the work ethic of the education sector during this difficult time.
“Faced with all of these pressures, the education and social care sectors are showing considerable resilience and creativity to provide children and learners with the best experience they can,” she said.
“And all of this is being done against the most challenging backdrop for staff in recent times.
“There is real optimism that the end is finally in sight for the sort of restrictions that we currently live under, but it’s clear that there is a long way to go before education and social care returns to normal.
“For many children, there is more to be done: to catch them up, to level the playing field and to prepare them well for the next stage in their lives.”
A spokesperson for Essex County Council, said: “We remain committed to ensuring every child and young person in Essex continues to receive the best possible education, regardless of setting and continue to work closely with schools across the county to ensure they have the support they need at this time.”