The number of pupils who are not in school due to coronavirus infection, the need to self isolate, school closures due to an outbreak, or parents opting to keep them at home amid rising infections stands at 28,035 as of Wednesday, according to the latest Scottish Government figures.
This compares to just 20,723 on June 15 – an increase of 7,312, or 36 per cent.
Government statistics published at the end of last year showed there were a total of 702,197 school pupils in Scotland meaning around 4 per cent of Scotland’s school children are currently absent due to Covid-related reasons in what is, for many, the final week of the summer term.
Last week, the number of pupils not in school across Scotland because they were suffering from a Covid-19 related sickness was 669, while 597 were absent because the school was closed due to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the number of pupils not in school because their parents chose to keep them away from school as a precautionary measure was 1,596 and 17,861 were self-isolating after being identified as a contact of someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.
It is not known which category has seen the biggest rise in absences over the past week. Full data will be published later today by the Scottish Government.
Teaching union the EIS said some parents were taking children out of school before the summer break due to fears over rising infections.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Some parents and pupils may well be exercising caution towards the end of term about possible contacts within schools, given the rising numbers of pupil infections. This is largely beyond the control of schools. Everyone is clearly looking forward to a well-deserved break.”
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, said: “What we're seeing both in Scotland and England are the consequences of the lack of robust mitigations in schools.
"The only way to reduce educational disruption for children, with all its attendant harms, is to invest in reducing transmission in schools, where it's clear the delta variant is spreading rapidly.
"This means masks in both primaries and secondaries, and investment in supplementing ventilation through CO2 [carbon dioxide] monitors and air filtration devices."
Sottish Labour education secretary Michael Marra said: "These figures are deeply worrying. Scottish education has been let down by absent leadership throughout the pandemic.
“It took too long to get testing established and these figures show little has been done to ensure its effectiveness.”
He added: “Greater safety measures such as robust testing could have reduced disruption to young people’s education and increased safety for staff, pupils and families. We can't have pupils losing out on classroom time and teachers being put at greater risk of infection. It's time for leadership from the Cabinet secretary."
Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell called for the Scottish Government to ensure that “every possible measure” is put into schools to ensure low transmission of Covid-19.
He said: “It is worrying to see an increasing number of pupils not in school as a result of Covid-related issues.
“We know that the best place for our pupils to learn is in the classroom. While we are now approaching the summer break, the last thing pupils needed was more disruption to their education after the devastating effects of the pandemic.”
Jo Bisset, organiser for parent campaign group Us For Them Scotland, said: “All over Scotland entire classes – and sometimes whole schools – are being sent home on the back of one suspected case. The emptying of classrooms in this way is alarmist, counter-productive and harmful for children.
“The last 15 months has been a shambles in Scottish education. The government and those who’re supposed to hold them to account have been plagued by a ‘can’t do’ attitude. Parents and pupils badly need everyone to buck up their ideas.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “COVID-19 cases in schools remain low. The current rate of absence for COVID-related reasons amongst pupils is around four per cent. Only three per cent of that number are off because they have a COVID-related sickness with the vast majority off due to self-isolation.
“We continue to closely monitor the situation in schools and work with partners to ensure guidance reflects the latest scientific evidence and advice.”