Classrooms have been hit by a 27 per cent jump in Covid-related teacher absences since late last month, with reports indicating primary schools are under growing pressure.

It comes as case rates among 5- to 11-year-olds increase more rapidly than those recorded for other age groups.

The trend has sparked calls for the government to produce data that would confirm whether there is a link between staff absence and rising Covid incidence in P1-7 children.

Greg Dempster, general secretary at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, which represents school leaders in the primary, additional support needs (ASN) and nursery sectors, said: “The first point to make is that case rates are significantly higher for the primary-age pupil group just now, which is something we need to focus on.

“We know the staff absence rate is up as well, but what we do not have in the data is the sectoral split within those absences. That’s something I’m asking for from government, and which I’m keen they get to us.

“However, feedback from AHDS members is that there’s very significant staff absence at the moment. It suggests there’s a potential link there between pupil case rates and staff absences, but I do not have the data to confirm it.”

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Statistics show that, on November 16, 1,458 teaching staff were absent with confirmed Covid or its symptoms, or were absent because they were self-isolating, isolating due to instructions from contact tracers, shielding, quarantining or looking after someone with the illness. 

The total is up from 1,430 on November 9 and 1,147 on October 26. It is also the highest since September 21, when a figure of 1,501 was recorded.

Officials said they received statistics for 31 local authorities on November 9, with data for Moray carried forward.

Meanwhile, figures for the week ending November 14 confirm the Covid rate was 1,062.5 cases per 100,000 5- to 11-year-olds. This marks a rise from 887.7 cases per 100,000 5- to 11-year-olds in the week ending November 7.

In the week ending November 14, the rate of cases per 100,000 of the general population was 385.6.

HeraldScotland: Greg Dempster is AHDS general secretary.Greg Dempster is AHDS general secretary.

Mr Dempster said high levels of staff absence would have significant implications for the day to day administration of schools. He added: “The data that’s presented by government is for Covid-related absence but we are coming into winter and, of course, there will be other, seasonal-related absences as well.

“What does that mean for schools? Well, it means school leaders cannot focus on the day job of running schools because they’re having to cover in class for absent staff. We need that data to examine whether there’s that link between pupil absence and staff absence, and, if there is, we need to respond in a way that addresses that.

“In terms of the potential response from councils and government to support schools, having the additional numbers of staff to fill those gaps would be ideal. 

“The response could also involve lifting normal business expectations on school leaders – returns, planning documents, expectations around pushing for school improvement, for example – and saying to them it’s ok to set those to one side while the pressure is on because of staff absence. This would make it easier for them to cover for class teacher absences. 

“It might also mean reviewing the decision that school inspections should start post-Christmas.

“If there’s a link between pupil case rates and staff absences, medical advisors may wish to consider whether other mitigations need to be factored in and that would be a question for them. Mitigations that have been removed include bubbles and sticking to class groups, and there has never been mask wearing for pupils in primary.”

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Although there have been signs of rising incidence among 12- to 17-year-olds since the end of last month, increases have been shallower than in the 5-11 age group. Secondary education figures said uptake of the coronavirus vaccine was having a positive effect.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We continue to closely monitor Covid cases in schools.

"The latest figures show why it is so important that the mitigations in schools remain in place and that we all remain vigilant against the spread of the virus.”