Cheshire areas where kids losing most school days to covid

A staggering 155,590 days of school were missed by pupils in Halton in the autumn term alone, analysis of figures from the Department for Education (DfE) shows.

The 17,366 pupils attending schools in Halton lost the equivalent of nine days each.

That was above the number of days lost per pupil in England, where pupils have lost eight days of school per head on average, and that compared to five days lost per pupil in Southern areas such as Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Dorset.

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Overall, pupils in Cheshire lost eight days of school per head, in 2020/21, in line with the national average.

However, parts of Cheshire already had higher than average rates of school absence before Covid-19 hit – with four days lost per pupil in autumn 2019 in Halton, Cheshire West and Chester and Warrington, compared to three days nationally, and the gap has been widened by the pandemic.

Of the days lost per pupil to absence this autumn term, six were related to Covid-19 in Halton and five in Warrington.

This included pupils self-isolating and shielding, including when a class or bubble had been required to stay at home.

That compared to five days lost related to Covid-19 across England as a whole, and just two in places like Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Dorset.

While figures on absences this spring term won’t be available until later this year, separate figures on attendance reveal the trend has continued – with Cheshire East particularly affected due to rapid spread of the Delta variant in the area.

Between the first and last weeks of May this year, the proportion of children attending schools in Cheshire East fell from 93 per cent to 91 per cent in the week to the 27th.

That was one of the biggest drops seen in the country.

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By contrast, the proportion of children attending schools in some southern areas such as Hampshire, Somerset or Doncaster actually went up in May.

Nationally, the figures show a clear North-South divide in the amount of school being missed due to Covid-19 – although London has also been affected.

In the autumn term, the North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber all lost six days per pupil due to self-isolating and shielding.

The North East, London and the East Midlands all lost five days per pupil, while the South East and East lost four and the South West only lost three.

The divide has remained as lockdown has eased. In May this year, the North West saw the proportion of children attending school drop from 92 per cent to 86 per cent – both the lowest proportion and the biggest decrease in the country.

It was followed by London, which saw the figure drop from 93 per cent to 87 per cent.

Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands and the North East also had particularly low rates of attendance, while it was highest in the South West.

The fact that children in the North are more likely to have missed school during the pandemic is likely impacting their learning.

Government commissioned research found primary school children lost more than two months’ learning during the last lockdown, again, with kids in the North hit the hardest.

According to the report, by the time they returned to school in March this year, pupils had regressed to the level they were in September, and pupils in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber and East Midlands had lost more learning than those in London and the South West.

Meanwhile, early this month, school leaders warned the Prime Minister that the Delta variant of the virus was continuing to spread within schools in England, with a rapid rise in infections among secondary school pupils and further outbreaks in recent weeks.

Data from Public Health England show the Delta variant – which was first identified in India – is now the dominant variant in the UK

There were 39 outbreaks involving the variant in the last week of the half-term, up from 27 the previous week and 11 the week before.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show students in years 7 to 11 in secondary schools had the highest infection rate of any age group, with one case in every 210, or 0.47 per cent, on June 2. At the start of May, the rate among this age group was 0.10 per cent.

Commenting on the figures, a DfE spokesperson said: “As part of our ambitious and long-term education recovery plan, we’re investing over £1.5bn for tutoring in schools and colleges, with over £500m going directly to schools to allow them identify and use their own tutors, and £1bn invested through the NTP and colleges, which is providing high quality tutoring for thousands of young people.

“We are also giving over £900m to schools – through the catch up and recovery premiums – which can be used flexibly to support pupils in the way that works best for them.”

However, experts think that it’s not enough. Natalie Perera, CEO, Education Policy Institute, a charity promoting high quality education for young people, said: “The government’s education recovery package does not match the scale of lost learning and is unlikely to be enough to support children to catch up on the many months of lost learning that most have suffered.

“Our research has shown that an education recovery package totalling £13.5bn over three years will be required to reverse the damage to pupils’ learning since the beginning of the pandemic.

“There is a real concern that without a more ambitious recovery package, learning losses may not be recovered and that the most disadvantaged pupils will fall permanently behind their peers.”

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