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School Covid absences not as bad as feared, says Education Minister


Michelle McIlveen. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Michelle McIlveen. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Michelle McIlveen. Credit: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

School attendance figures are “moving in the right direction” with nine out of 10 pupils present, the Education Minister has told her Stormont watchdog committee.

After earlier concerns that Omicron would cause chaos in classrooms, Michelle McIlveen told MLAs the Department of Education had started to take a daily snapshot of absentee levels across schools on January 10, but the situation is not as great as feared.

Ms McIlveen revealed that in the week January 10-14 there was a 90.3% pupil attendance rate, a rise from 87.6% on the first week back after the Christmas holidays.

The number of pupils learning in school rose by 3.7% in the same time, reaching 88.6%.

There was a also a fall in the number of pupils isolating at home, the figure now standing at 1.3% compared to 1.6% in the week before.

Pupils who had Covid confirmed was 2.1%, with other absences accounting for 7%, making the total absence rate 9.7%, down 2.7% on the previous week.

“It is encouraging and will give people comfort that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Ms McIlveen.

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She also informed Education Committee members that in the week up to January 17, 6.5% of teachers across schools responding to the Department snapshot were absent due to Covid issues.

“Nine percent of classroom assistants were absent, with 64.5% of teacher absences covered by either existing staff or substitute teachers,” said Ms McIlveen.

“That is still a sizeable number of teachers absent. But the numbers are now going in the right direction.

“While absences through Covid remain an issues in schools, the situation is not as difficult as we thought it was going to be.”

Just over half (56.7%) of schools responded to the daily snapshot survey.

As the new term began, schools continued to report difficulties in securing substitute teachers to fill the gaps left by teachers absent through Covid-related issues.

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