Deprived state schools in England hit hardest by Covid staff absences, survey finds

The most deprived state schools in England have been hit much harder by staff absence with Covid, compared with those in better-off areas or private schools, according to a new survey of classroom teachers.

The TeacherTapp daily online survey of teachers found that 29% of those working in schools with high numbers of pupils from deprived backgrounds said at least one in 10 of their colleagues were off or isolating with Covid.

The survey done on 7 January revealed that nearly a third of all teachers said between 5% and 10% of their colleagues were off, across both primary and secondary schools.

But at schools with more than 10% of staff off, there was a dramatic divergence. While 30% of teachers at secondary schools with the highest proportion of pupils on free school meals said that 10% or more of their colleagues were off, just 9% of teachers at schools with the fewest pupils on free school meals said the same.

Similarly, while one in four teachers at state schools said they didn’t have enough staff to cover absences, just 9% of teachers at private schools reported the same.

On the upside, 95% of teachers at state schools reported that they had sufficient supplies of lateral flow tests for their pupils.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair and founder of the Sutton Trust, which published the findings, said poorer pupils should not be further disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic, adding: “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.”

The survey of nearly 6,500 teachers also found that in some schools more than a third of pupils did not have access to laptops or tablets at home if required for remote learning.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it “beggars belief” that pupils were still without digital devices nearly two years into the pandemic.

“The government made great play of its efforts to provide laptops to schools last year but it seems it did not see the job through. The use of technology in education has been one of the few positives to come from the pandemic but it is of little use if young people cannot access lessons when they are self-isolating,” Barton said.