Unauthorised school absences fall to almost zero

The number of unauthorised absences from schools in Essex almost vanished following a year of lockdown.

Figures from Essex County Council show just six penalty notices were issued between March 8, 2021 and April 1, 2021 – compared to the 688 issued between March 11, 2019 and April 5, 2019.

The dramatic decline in the number of fines however comes after a year of most parents having their children at home continuously, as well as a backdrop of travel restrictions.

On Monday, March 8 schools were finally allowed to fully re-open to pupils as lockdown restrictions partially lifted across the country.

In an effort to increase the confidence of coronavirus being kept out of classrooms, twice-weekly testing – using rapid lateral flow tests – were made available to adults in all households with primary, secondary school and college aged children and young people, including childcare and support bubbles.

Essex families with school-age children have been encouraged to access the free home tests and take part in regular testing to help identify more asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and quickly break chains of transmission before they enter schools and colleges. Twice-weekly testing is also offered to adults working in the wider school community, including bus drivers and after school club leaders.

Individuals can only take part if they, their household or bubble do not have coronavirus symptoms or have not been told to self-isolate.

Soon after schools returned a snapshot of more than 700 secondary schools found take-up of COVID tests as being between 90 per cent to 100 per cent in more than half of schools, between 80 per cent and 90 per cent in a quarter. But in about one in 20 schools, take-up for testing was below 60 per cent of pupils.

While the attendance figures appear to show a high degree of confidence in the safety measures in schools, parents have had less reason to remove their children from school without permission given the travel restrictions in place.

It is unclear how long this very high degree of attendance will last when foreign holidays return as normal.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter