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COVID-related school absences increase by two-thirds in England

File photo: A social distancing sign is seen on the gate of a school in Hale, Britain, REUTERS/Phil Noble

School absences in England related to COVID-19 jumped by two-thirds in the last two weeks of September, according to government data which could raise concerns about further disruption to education despite a pledge to keep schools open.

Around one in seven secondary school students were off for either coronavirus-related or other reasons, the Department for Education said, and the age group has the highest prevalence of infections in the country.

Schools in England have been open for around a month, and some epidemiologists have highlighted concern about rising cases among children, although it is yet to translate into a sustained increase in infections for the population more broadly.

An estimated 204,000 students, or 2.5% of all pupils, at state-funded schools were off for COVID-19 related reasons on Sept. 30, up from 122,000 on Sept. 16, according to Tuesday’s figures.

Although overall attendance in state-funded primary schools was 92.6% on that day, in secondary schools, attendance was substantially lower, at 86.3%.

Increased prevalence of COVID-19 among secondary school-age children contributed to a rise in overall infection numbers in the latest weekly figures announced on Friday by the Office for National Statistics.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to keep schools open as a priority this academic year, after the pandemic heavily disrupted education for months.

Children between 12- to 15-years-old are being offered COVID-19 vaccines after Johnson’s medical advisers last month found that the benefit to children gained by avoiding further disruption to schooling was decisive even as the benefit of protection against COVID-19 itself was marginal.

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