Thousands of students are refusing to wear a mask in class or take a test

More than a third of schools have at least one in 10 teachers absent due to Covid reasons, as some students refuse to wear masks in class or take tests, unions revealed today.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said schools so far are largely managing staff absences well, but that education chiefs have warned of trickier times ahead.

A survey by the union found one in three school leaders are experiencing staff absence levels of over 10% as a result of soaring Omicron cases.

A majority (95%) have at least some pupils off for Covid-related reasons at the start of term – and 29% said they had more than 10% of their students absent.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has admitted that staff absences are likely to rise in schools in the weeks ahead, amid warnings that heads should prepare for as many as one in four absences. 

Damien McNulty, a national executive member of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), told the BBC just 5% of pupils in one school agreed to take a lateral flow test at the start of the term and wear a mask.

‘Sadly, we have had reports in the last 24 hours of at least six secondary schools in the north-west of England where children, in huge numbers, are refusing to take lateral flow tests or to wear masks,’ he said.

‘We’ve got one school in Lancashire where only 67 children out of 1,300 are prepared to have a lateral flow test and wear masks. This is a public health emergency.’

NAHT chief Mr Whiteman also called for an easing of pressures from government and Ofsted with regards to inspections while schools deal with staff shortages.

‘One of the things we need from government is a clear statement, that there’ll be a clear permissive approach from them in empowering school leaders to make these decisions,’ he said. 

‘[That could be] redeploying staff to different classrooms, having non-subject-specialists in front of classes if need be and removing those unnecessary pressures of inspection and assessment tests. 

‘Measuring schools in the normal way just isn’t appropriate and they still have all of those pressures right now, when down to very limited staffing.’

It comes after MPs yesterday urged ministers to ‘get a grip’ on the teaching unions and stop them putting children in a ‘pandemic straitjacket’ after members were told to dismiss Government guidance and impose their own stricter rules.

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