State schools are being more heavily impacted by covid-related staff absences than private schools, with state school teachers almost twice as likely to report that one in 10 or more of their colleagues were absent due to covid (20% vs 12%).

This is according to new Sutton Trust research with Teacher Tapp, which gives the first comprehensive overview of the impact of covid on English schools at the start of this term.

Staff absences were more pronounced in the most deprived state schools, which were almost three times more likely than private schools to report that one in 10 or more of their staff were absent (29% vs 12%). This further highlights the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the most disadvantaged students.

As a consequence of this disruption, almost a quarter of state school teachers have prepared materials for online learning in the last week. However, 29% of state schools reported that more than 10% of their isolating pupils still don’t have access to devices for remote learning, a figure which rose to 48% in the most deprived state schools. While the picture on remote learning has improved since January 2021, many schools are still struggling to access devices for their pupils.

Today’s research also highlights differences in staff absences by region, with schools in the North West reporting the highest levels of absences, followed by Yorkshire and the North East. Across the country, roughly 4% of teachers were isolating due to covid this Monday (10th January).

Teachers were also asked about other issues caused by the current wave of the pandemic. The most common issue raised by state schools was non-teaching staff having to cover lessons due to staff absences (28%). Almost one in 10 (8%) teachers said that more than one class was being taught together due to staff shortages. A similar proportion said that staff were unable to come in due to lack of access to lateral flow or PCR test, with access to adequate tests more of an issue in the most deprived state schools.

Today’s research highlights the ongoing challenges facing schools, particularly those serving the most disadvantaged communities. The Sutton Trust is calling on the government to urgently ensure that all pupils have access to a device for remote learning and that schools have adequate funding to pay for cover for absent staff.

The continuing disruption also strengthens the case for a more comprehensive education recovery plan, with support targeted at disadvantaged pupils who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Further support, tied to long term monitoring of learning loss, is needed to ensure attainment gaps don’t widen further. With exams likely to go ahead this year, colleges, universities and employers making decisions on the basis of exam grades should give extra consideration for those who have suffered the greatest impacts of the pandemic on their learning.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“While most children are now back at school, disruption is continuing with schools heavily impacted by covid related staff absences. The most deprived schools were almost three times more likely than private schools to report that one in 10 or more of their staff were absent (29% vs 12%).

“We must do all we can to ensure that poorer pupils are not further disadvantaged as a result of this disruption. As more pupils move to remote learning again, all pupils must have the resources they need to learn from home. The most important thing for the government to do is to strengthen existing education recovery and make sure sufficient funding is being provided to cover absent staff.”

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  • The Sutton Trust was founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to improve social mobility in Britain. The Trust has influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions; its programmes have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives; and it has published over 250 pieces of agenda-setting research.
  • Teacher Tapp surveyed up to 6,964 teachers in schools across England between the 7th and the 10th of January 2022. Survey responses are weighted to represent the national teaching population, according to school funding, phase and region, along with teacher age, gender and level of seniority. (December data is from the 6th to the 10th of December 2021.)

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