MORE than one in four pupils in the North East were off school at the end of term due to a Covid-related absence.

Figures from the Department for Education show the North East had the highest rate of Covid-related absences in the country – with 26.5 per cent off school. 

It comes after eight of the region’s local authorities recorded their highest infection rate since records began – and among the highest in the country – earlier this month. 

In Middlesbrough, 47.6 per cent of pupils were absent from the classroom on July 15. And just over half (27 per cent) of the absences on July 15 were down to Covid. 

However, County Durham recorded some of the lowest absence rates in the region with just 23.8 per cent of primary school pupils off and 22.7 per cent of secondary school pupils off for Covid-related reasons. 

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The North East also had the highest staff absences on July 15, with 11.1 per cent of teachers and school leaders – and 11 per cent teaching assistants or other staff – absent for Covid-related reasons.

This compares with 6.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders – and 6.4 per cent teaching assistants or other staff – absent for Covid-reasons nationally on July 15.

In County Durham, three schools were last week forced to shut early ahead of the summer break due to difficulties caused by Covid.

Labour MP for North Durham, Kevan Jones urged the Government to ‘act’ over the summer holidays to help curb surging Covid infection rates to avoid schools being overwhelmed with outbreaks.

He said: “The Government have got to empower and use the experience of local directors of public health to work with local communities to tackle the virus.”

In dealing with Covid-related absences at schools, Amanda Healy, director of public health for County Durham, said: “Covid risk assessments and infection, prevention and control measures have been in place at every school in County Durham and will continue to be so in September in accordance with current national guidance.

“As part of these measures, secondary school age pupils will be offered two lateral flow tests in school at the beginning of term and all schools have planned for additional measures to be implemented, either across the whole school or a particular year group.

“Our teams will also continue to provide support to schools upon their return, based on local information, national guidance and best practice.

“We would like to thank schools, teachers, parents, children and support staff in County Durham for all of their hard work during what has been a challenging academic year.”

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Overall, 1.13 million children in England were out of school for Covid-19 related reasons towards the end of term.

Current rules say that children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group at secondary school – tests positive for coronavirus.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that the use of “bubbles” in schools in England will come to an end.

He said it was up to individual schools and colleges whether they scrapped the bubble system.

From August 16, children in England will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive.

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