Levels of COVID-related pupil absences in public schools across England have more than tripled, raising concerns about the impact this could have on grades.
A total of 201,600 students were absent for COVID-related reasons on March 17, up from 45,100 on March 3, according to the latest government figures.
The COVID-related absentee rate rose to 2.5% of students on March 17, from 0.7% on March 3.
The climb covid the cases have raised concerns among school leaders about the potential impact absences will have on grades.
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school the NAHT leaders’ union, said that with ‘imminent exams for many students, this is a very worrying time’.
He added: ‘More disruption now could be seriously detrimental to pupils’ chances of exams and the resumption of education.’
The latest wave of cases among students comes as pupils prepare for upcoming GCSE, A-level and other exams over the summer term.
However, concerns about absences also apply to staff, as some 23% of all public schools had more than 15% of their teachers and headteachers absent, up from 11% on March 3, the data showed.
Mr Whiteman added that the latest figures match what the union has heard from its members as COVID cases have increased in many schools over the past week.
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Free testing must continue to ‘absolute minimum’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said its members are seeing “very serious disruption” caused by COVID.
He added that the government “at the absolute minimum” must continue to make free COVID tests available in educational institutions after April 1.
Read more: What does “living with COVID” mean?
Free side streams will no longer be available after April 1 in England, except for over-75s and over-12s with weakened immune systems, which means everyone will have to buy test kits.
Last month, the government presented its “Living with COVID” plan, which ended most of the remaining restrictions.
This included ending the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive and also set out the government’s plan to end free testing for most people.