Nearly one in five students were absent from Northamptonshire secondary school in the run-up to last month’s Easter holidays, according to official figures.
Department for Education data shows at least 5,000 pupils were absent from the county’s state-funded schools — around 2,100 in West Northamptonshire and 3,000 in the North — during the last week of March, just before the Easter holidays.
That equated to 10 percent of pupils from schools that responded to the survey that week.
In county secondary schools, up to 18 percent of students — many preparing for this month’s GCSE exams — were absent compared to seven percent in primaries.
Nationally, 11.4 percent of pupils were absent before Easter which was up from 9.7 percent in February when the number of known Covid-19 cases was much higher and restrictions tighter.
Pupils can be listed as absent for any reason, including general sickness, contracting Covid-19, isolating as a positive contact, and any other disciplinary issue or unexpected absence.
Figures do not specify what proportion of pupils were absent due to Covid-19.
Yet the National Association of Head Teachers has criticised ministers’ approach to handling Covid in schools, arguing it is attempting to "pretend the pandemic is over."
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: "The living with Covid plan is increasingly looking like an 'ignoring Covid plan' when it comes to schools."
He warned that disruption may continue in the future, and that it is important no pupil is disadvantaged by it, adding: "We are not out of the woods yet."
The DfE said it is focused on increasing school attendance to ensure "every child gets the best possible education, no matter whey in the country they live."
Disruption in schools before Easter extended to staff, according to the NAHT and Association of School and College Leaders.
Some 8.1 percent of teachers and 7.1 percent of teaching assistants were absent in West Northamptonshire schools in the week to March 31.
In North Northamptonshire, nine percent of teachers and 6.1 percent of teaching assistants were absent.
Geoff Barton, ACSL general secretary, said: "It is very clear that Covid is continuing to wreak havoc and it is hard for schools to operate under these conditions.”
He added that pupils from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds have been unfairly hit by the pandemic and the high rate of absence is because they have become "disengaged from education".
Mr Barton urged the Government to increase investment in attendance and pastoral services to aid schools' efforts to support vulnerable children.
In Northamptonshire, around 15 percent of children eligible for free school meals were not in school before the Easter break.
A DfE spokesperson said it is pushing forward with plans to require schools to have an attendance policy that must meet national standards.
They added that the department has also introduced attendance advisors to support local authorities and academy trusts and will continue to implement best practice among social workers, mental health practitioners and other health officials.