Covid-related absences from school surged by nearly a quarter in the early part of this week, with figures showing 38,361 pupils were not in classrooms on Tuesday.
The total – which is up from 30,196 the day before – marks a new high and is more than five times the number (7,435) recorded for August 19.
Although there was a marked drop between Friday of last week and Monday, the figures suggest overall pupil absences due to Covid-related sickness, school closure, self-isolation or parental choice are trending relentlessly upwards.
Self-isolation was the largest driver of this week’s increase, with 28,107 pupils affected on Tuesday – an increase from 22,770 the day before. This is after a policy change designed to ensure self-isolation in the 5 to 17 age group is targeted at close contacts deemed to have a higher infection risk. Those who are asked to take a PCR test can also return to class following confirmation of a negative result.
The requirement for staff and children aged 12 or over to wear face coverings in school buildings remains in place, while investment is being provided to boost ventilation through the use of devices such as CO2 monitors. Staff social distancing rules have also been retained.
Current Covid mitigations are due to be reviewed six weeks into the new term.
The latest absence figures show totals and rates of change vary considerably across Scotland, indicating some schools and areas are being hit harder than others. This, if it continues for an extended period of time, may have implications for any future decision on whether to press ahead with a formal exams diet in 2022.
This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled amid fairness concerns connected to differing regional or local infection and absence rates. There were fears that some pupils, particularly those from less well-off backgrounds, suffered greater disruption to education and may not have had good access to the technology or environment necessary for effective participation in remote learning.
Other statistics show positive case rates among 5 to 17-year-olds continue to rise sharply. In the week ending August 29, there were 1,092.8 cases per 100,000 5-11 year olds, 1,742.2 per 100,000 12-15 year olds and 1,964.8 cases per 100,000 16-17 year olds. The rate of cases per 100,000 of the general population was 725.7.
Meanwhile, a decision on vaccinating Scotland’s 12 to 15-year-olds is expected within days. It comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) stopped short of recommending universal vaccination on health grounds due to the relatively low risk of Covid-related harm to children and young people.
However, it said wider issues could be considered, such as the impact on education and protecting the whole population. Sixteen and 17-year-olds are already being offered the vaccine.