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Majority of school leaders say staff absences are barrier to ‘catch-up’ – poll

Three in four school leaders say that most of their pupils are behind academically compared to pre-pandemic cohorts.

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A fogging machine, which can disinfect a whole classroom, is set up in a classroom (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A fogging machine, which can disinfect a whole classroom, is set up in a classroom (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A fogging machine, which can disinfect a whole classroom, is set up in a classroom (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The majority of school leaders believe staff absences amid the pandemic are a barrier to successful academic catch-up for pupils this year, a survey suggests.

Three in four school leaders say that most of their pupils are behind academically compared to pre-pandemic cohorts, according to a poll.

A survey, by The Key which provides support for school leaders, suggests that 96% of school leaders have experienced some disruption to their learning catch-up plans for pupils this term due to the ongoing pandemic.

School leaders identified “insufficient staff due to absences” (51%) and “pupil attendance” (35%) as the biggest barriers to successful catch-up lessons for pupils in their schools this academic year.

The majority (90%) believe it is likely that they will need to run “targeted catch-up interventions” during the next academic year (2022-23), according to the poll of more than 1,000 school leaders in November this year.

One school leader told The Key: “Staff absences are having a massive impact.

“Children learn best with their own teacher, not supply teachers.”

Another added: “Absences for pupils and staff because of Covid add yet more challenge to an exhausting and strained situation.”

The findings come as Department for Education (DfE) figures show that the number of children and staff off school for Covid-related reasons in England has risen over the past fortnight.

The DfE estimated that 2.0% of teachers and school leaders were absent from schools due to Covid-19 related reasons on November 25, up from 1.4% on November 11.

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Face masks alongside a stationery (Brian Lawless/PA)

Face masks alongside a stationery (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Face masks alongside a stationery (Brian Lawless/PA)

The DfE has announced it will be reintroducing its workforce fund until the end of term for schools facing the greatest staffing challenges amid Covid-19.

Nicola West Jones, head of market research at The Key, said: “School leaders are doing everything in their power to help their pupils make progress, but the reality is that Covid-19 has continued to cause significant disruption in schools this term even before the emergence of the new variant.

“Many of the comments left in our survey point to reduced resilience, concentration and stamina among pupils in the classroom, all crucial prerequisites for learning.

“This, coupled with ongoing staff and pupil absences, explains why progress is going to take some time.”

The Government announced in its Budget that it would provide an extra £1.8 billion to help children recover learning lost during the pandemic, bringing total catch-up funding so far to £4.9 billion.

But a number of education leaders have said the funding is not enough.

A separate study, published on Friday, found that younger pupils are around three months behind where they should be in reading due to the pandemic.

The report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests there was little progress in closing the Covid-19 reading attainment gap for Year 1 pupils from spring to summer 2021 despite schools reopening.

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