Wigan's school attendance records among lowest in country since September restart, figures suggest
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More than 1,500 secondary school pupils were absent in Wigan on just one day last week because of coronavirus, estimates suggest.
The Education Policy Institute said there were “huge disparities” in attendance rates across English local authorities, and that the Government had failed to address the issue.
Department for Education figures released for the first time estimate up to 1,732 pupils in state secondary schools in Wigan were absent on December 10 – giving an attendance rate of 79 per cent.
Of these, 105 were absent with either a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19.
Concerned that some children were counted in multiple categories, the DfE estimates the number of pupils absent because they were forced to self-isolate was between 1,429 and 1,627.
Between the start of September and December 10, Wigan has had an average weekly attendance rate of 75 per cent in secondary schools – one of the lowest in England.
Rates for the school year so far have varied widely across England, with Rutland, West Sussex and York having average attendances of 90 per cent, and Rochdale just 70.
The National Education Union said it is not fair that all these pupils would sit exams under the same conditions next year.
Its joint secretary Kevin Courtney said the attendance figures, which have been “hidden from the public for so long”, reveal the impact of the pandemic on schooling.
He said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who threatened several councils with legal action if they closed schools early for Christmas, and the Government had failed to keep schools safe.
Mr Courtney added: “The interests of an individual child are of course to be in school, but you have to view this with a wider canvas than that – which Gavin Williamson has been failing to do in his recourse to legal threats. Schools are deeply concerned that community spread is being generated by schools, which are now widely accepted to be major centres of transmission, particularly in secondaries.”
The Education Policy Institute said the data shows “huge disparities” in the amount of face-to-face learning in different areas, because of the varying attendance rates.
Mr Williamson said: “I know some areas of the country have faced more significant challenges and attendance has been impacted by the high rate of infection in the community at that time. Where children are asked to self-isolate they should receive remote education in line with what they would receive in school so they do not fall behind.”
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