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Contradictory government guidance is pushing up school attendance levels and could undermine lockdown, say school leaders

Today (Monday 11 January 2021), school leaders’ union NAHT releases initial data from a survey of its members in England that shows higher demand for school places compared to last year despite the new national lockdown.


·       74% of school leaders reported that the demand for places from key worker families and vulnerable children has ‘greatly increased’ compared to the lockdown last March


·       34% of school leaders reported that they had more than a third of children still physically attending school


Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools, said: “We are concerned that high levels of attendance could seriously undermine the impact of lockdown measures, and may even run the risk of ultimately extending school closures. We urgently need the government to specify how many pupils on-site might be too many. At present, the government’s confused message to parents on school attendance risks defeating the national aim of supressing the virus.”


Government guidance currently says that ‘children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school if required. This includes parents who may be working from home.’ It also says that ‘there is no limit to the numbers of these pupils who may attend and schools should not limit attendance of these groups.’ However, the guidance states that ‘parents and carers who are critical workers should keep their children at home if they can’.


Mr Whiteman continued: “This situation is incredibly difficult for parents. The increase in demand for places compared to the national lockdown last March is very concerning. It is critical that school places for the children of key workers are only used when absolutely necessary in order to reduce the numbers in school and stem the spread of the virus.


“Our survey shows that 1 in 10 schools had between 40 and 60% of pupils attending last week, after the lockdown came into effect. In these circumstances it is understandable why quite so many parents with children at home are questioning, with some degree of frustration, why their children are being asked to stay at home when so many aren’t.


“The government must be clear on what it intends schools and families to do. If the national priority is to suppress the virus then it must provide schools with clear guidance so that reasonable levels of attendance can be set.”


“We remain particularly concerned about the situation in special schools and nurseries where up to 100% of pupils and children are expected to attend.


4,964 school leaders in England responded to NAHT’s survey on Thursday 7 January 2021.


·       99% of schools were open to key worker and vulnerable children.

·       38% schools reported they had 21-30% of their usual cohort attending.

·       34% of schools said they had more than 31% of their usual cohort attending.

·       74% said the demand for places is ‘greatly increased’ compared to the first lockdown in April.

·       48% said they had had to prioritise places due to an excess of demand.


Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

Email :