Covid in Scotland: Education absence figures are shocking and demand action by Scottish government – Scotsman comment

The Covid pandemic has had many adverse effects beyond causing the deaths of thousands of people and making countless more sick.

School absences rose dramatically during the Covid pandemic (Picture: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)
School absences rose dramatically during the Covid pandemic (Picture: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

The economy has been battered, Long Covid has cast a shadow over many lives, and the education of children has been severely disrupted.

Now figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats show just how dramatic the rise in the proportion of children absent from school was.

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Before the pandemic hit, in the 2018-19 school year, 14.6 per cent of primary school pupils and 29.3 per cent of secondary school pupils did not attend classes on more than one in ten days. But in 2020-21, those figures rose to 25.4 per cent and 49.6 per cent respectively.

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And the proportion of children missing more than 50 per cent of their education increased from 0.2 per cent to one per cent among primary pupils, and two per cent to four per cent among secondary students.

Many of these children will have been unable to attend physical classes, either because they had Covid or were forced to isolate after coming into contact with someone who had.

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It could also be that the extended period where schooling was cancelled meant that some children got out of the habit of going school, making truancy or crying off sick seem less drastic.

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But, whatever the reasons, this shows just how much of the school year – already severely disrupted as a result of the virus – many children have missed.

And, as Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie pointed out, the poverty-related attainment gap in education is “as wide as ever”. He claimed the Scottish government’s education recovery plan was “tired and unambitious”, adding that the SNP had “run out of ideas”.

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This may or may not be true – Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said nearly £500 million had been made available over two years to tackle the disruption, among other measures – but Scottish ministers should be in no doubt about how serious this situation is and how high a priority it must be.

Young lives blighted by the need to stay at home for prolonged periods – and especially those in Scotland’s most deprived areas – cannot be allowed to suffer from this different kind of ‘Long Covid’: the potentially life-altering consequences of a lack of education.

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