The majority of headteachers are reporting an attendance of more than 80% among the pupils in England returning to the classroom this week, suggesting around one in five parents are yet to send their children back to school.
Schools in England have begun welcoming back students in all year groups for the start of the autumn term, with the remainder due to open next week.
Early indications from a poll, by the school leaders union NAHT, suggest around nine in ten (92%) schools have had more than 80% of pupils attend.
The survey, of more 840 school leaders on Friday, found more than four in five (82%) schools have had more than 90% of children turn up to school.
School leaders said the top reasons for pupils not attending school were that they were quarantining following a trip abroad, were still away on holiday or were unwell with a non-coronavirus illness.
The overall absence rate during the 2019/20 Autumn term was 4.93 per cent, with the unauthorised absence rate at 1.32 per cent. For the three years prior, it was lower still.
Year 7 students line up in the playground and observe social distancing at City of London Academy Highgate Hill today after schools reopened, as a poll shows there are still pupils not returning because of coronavirus
About one in five (21%) school leaders said they had a pupil in their school who did not attend because their parents felt too anxious to send them back.
A similar proportion (20%) said they had a pupil in their school who did not attend because they were self-isolating following exposure to Covid-19.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: ‘This is a remarkable achievement, but we should not take anything for granted because we know that restrictions may well be likely as we get deeper into this term.
‘What’s important is that the Government gives very clear messages to schools and parents from now on so that attendance can remain high.’
The findings came as a school in Staffordshire closed as a precaution on Friday after a student tested positive for Covid-19.
The JCB Academy in Rocester – which reopened its doors at the end of last month – has now asked 100 students who came into contact with the individual who tested positive to self-isolate for the next 14 days.
Jenny McGuirk, principal of JCB Academy, said: ‘We have taken swift and decisive action to mitigate any risks and the measures we have taken go above and beyond the advice given to us from Public Health England.
‘In the meantime, the JCB Academy will reopen on Monday for the remaining 700 students. Those who are self-isolating will be able to access learning on Google Classroom for their lessons.’
Pictured: A teacher talks to her year two pupils during their first day of school after the summer break at St Luke’s Church of England Primary School in East London on September 3
She added that robust measures were put in place – including compulsory hand sanitising and the wearing of face masks between classrooms – before the school reopened for the autumn term.
It is the first time many pupils have stepped into a classroom since March, when schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Department for Education has said fines for parents who refuse to send their children to school will only be used as a ‘last resort’.
Mr Whiteman added: ‘Obviously for some, the anxiety of coronavirus means that they do not feel able to send their children to school.
‘Schools will work compassionately with these families and they should not be shamed or fined, which is why we are restating our appeal to the Government to take the threat of fines off the table.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘It is so encouraging to see schools opening their gates for the new term and I’m delighted that children are being reunited with their classmates and teachers.
‘Once again, I’d like to thank staff for their hard work throughout the summer holidays getting all schools and colleges ready for a safe return.
‘More schools will continue to open to all pupils next week, following teacher training days and inductions for new year groups. It’s vital that time is taken to fully settle into new routines and I am confident we have the right contingency plans to deal with any challenges.’
SAGE: Significant outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to Universities highly likely
Significant outbreaks of coronavirus linked to universities are ‘highly likely’ and they risk amplifying the transmission of the virus across the country, Government scientific advisers have said.
Social interactions and accommodation are likely to be a ‘high-risk environment’ for transmission to occur – and asymptomatic cases among students may make it harder to detect, they warned.
In a document published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), scientists have suggested that wider-scale testing, combined with action places, may help control campus outbreaks.
Wearing face coverings in campus buildings and reducing in-person interactions may mitigate the transmission of Covid-19, the advice suggests.
It says: ‘Students who are residents in university accommodation should be segmented as far as possible to co-locate courses or year groups, to minimise networks between different parts of an institution.’
The document, released on Friday by Sage, comes as students across the country prepare to return to university campuses for the autumn term.
It said: ‘There is a significant risk that HE (Higher Education) could amplify local and national transmission, and this requires national oversight.’
Pictured: Birmingham City University, which is set to welcome its 26,000 students on September 21, announced measures it will be taking to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading on its campus, and to the wider city
The paper, which sets out the principles for managing transmission, adds: ‘A critical risk is a large number of infected students seeding outbreaks across the UK, influencing national transmission.’
There is a small risk of this at the start of term, it says, but there is a ‘more substantial risk’ at the end of term if the infection spreads in universities.
The advisers warned outbreaks would coincide with Christmas and new year posing ‘a significant risk to both extended families and local communities.’
Universities should consider providing dedicated accommodation facilities to enable students who test positive to effectively isolate and minimise the risk of an outbreak, the scientists said.
Universities have been advised to involve students when producing rules on how to behave to increase the likelihood of young people adhering to them.
The document warns: ‘Disagreements, mistakes and transgressions will happen. Preventing anger, confrontation and stigmatisation will be important.’
On the Sage report, Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, said: ‘It is reassuring to note that many of the recommendations have already been addressed by universities in their planning for the start of the new term.
‘Higher education institutions are aware of the risk of cases emerging on campus and that is why they have been working hard over many months and investing considerable resource and expertise into planning for all scenarios.
‘It is vital that the sector and local health and public bodies work together over the new term to develop robust plans for managing outbreaks in university towns.’
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: ‘This report is sobering reading and brings the dangers associated with reopening university campuses into sharp focus. It exposes how wrong it was to try and pretend it would be almost business as usual. The worry now is how ill-prepared the Government and universities appear to be.
‘We welcome the recommendations for better testing and tracing, and for universities to work with staff and students on guidance. This report adds further weight to our call that online teaching must be universities’ default position.
‘What we really need now is a serious response from universities and Government – The health of university staff, students and the wider community is too important to gamble with. This is not business as usual.’
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of university students and staff is always a priority and these findings from Sage underpin the protective measures being taken to open universities safely for students, staff and local communities.
‘We have already published guidance on reopening higher education buildings and campuses, and will update this shortly to reflect Sage’s advice, to help universities prepare to open safely.’
Yesterday, Birmingham City University (BCU) announced a series of measures ‘to keep everyone safe’, including cutting footfall on its sites by at least half, at it prepares to welcome its 26,000 students from September 21.
The measures mean most students will be on campus every other week, alternating with a week of online classes and study, but ‘with a majority of teaching face-to-face and on campus’.
Where possible, staff will work from home, while students will be taught in bubbles to reduce infection transmission risk.
Face coverings will be issued to every student and member of staff, as well as hygiene equipment, while lecturers are being issued with protective visors and wearable microphones.