Commenting on the latest school attendance statistics in Wales, Eithne Hughes, Director of ASCL Cymru, said:
“The latest figures paint a shocking picture of significant educational disruption in schools across Wales caused by Covid-19 during the week before half term and we have major concerns about both the welfare and learning of our exam-age students in particular.
“Almost one in five GCSE students (81.7 per cent) and nearly a quarter of A-level students (78%) were missing from school according to the Covid-related absence figures published by the Welsh government.
“Having also lost a chunk of learning time during the half-term holiday, there are severe issues for these learners and logistical problems for their schools, who face the challenging task of keeping track of who was absent when and what part of the exam curriculum they have missed and need to catch up on.
“That chaotic situation is further exacerbated by significant levels of staff absence, with at least one school we are aware of reporting that they have struggled to keep their doors open to students such is the extent of illness.
“Meanwhile, the Welsh government’s data shows a headline figure of 2% of students absent for Covid-related absence. This fails to recognise that a huge proportion of those missing from school are listed in a miscellaneous illness category that includes a huge number of coronavirus cases.
“The headline data does not present a true picture of the disruption. We have raised this with Welsh government on several occasions and we are clear that any data used to show absence as a result of Covid, should be clear, transparent and accurate.
“Schools are crying out for the Welsh government to recognise the parlous state they are in. We have significant concerns for both the health and mental wellbeing of learners, in particular those facing exams this week, in January and next summer, and urge the Education Minister to act now in recognition of this very real problem facing learners and educators alike.
“The only chink of light in an increasingly bleak picture is the progress of the vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds and we urge the government to pick up the pace further and impress on students the importance of continuing to take twice-weekly lateral flow tests.”