Nearly one third say the impact has been severe.
The survey also reveals that the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds will not be delivered to more than 40% of eligible schools by the government’s target date of the October half term.
And it shows that most of the schools surveyed have been targeted by anti-vaccination campaigners, mainly through emails threatening legal action, but in some cases in communications threatening staff with physical harm and incidents in which protesters have gained access to school sites.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Life is most definitely not back to normal in our schools and colleges. The impact of coronavirus is an everyday reality which continues to cause havoc to the education of children and young people and places leaders and their staff under enormous pressure.
“It is extremely frustrating that the vaccination programme which offers some hope of salvation is apparently beset with delays and is running behind schedule. We don’t blame healthcare teams for this as we are sure they are working flat out.
“However, it is incredibly remiss of the government not to have ensured that there was sufficient capacity in place to deliver this vital programme at the scale and speed required, and we urge ministers to get a grip of the situation and put the resources in place.
“The government must also redouble its efforts to encourage regular home testing among eligible pupils and invest in high-quality ventilation systems.
“The high level of ongoing disruption again emphasises the pressing need for the Chancellor to vastly improve funding for education recovery in his forthcoming Budget.
“School budgets are also taking a hammering because of the cost of hiring supply staff to cover for absence and the government must provide additional funding to help with these costs.
“An additional difficulty is that on top of all of this schools are also having to deal with the activities of anti-vaccination campaigners.
“This is at best incredibly unhelpful, and at worst very distressing, and we appeal to those concerned to see sense and stop this nonsense.”
The survey of 567 headteachers and principals of schools and colleges in England found:
- 95% (537) said teaching and learning had been impacted by Covid-related pupil and staff absence during the autumn term so far, with 31% (173) saying the impact was severe.
- Covid-related pupil absence was currently running at above 10% in 93 schools, and staff absence at above 10% in 63 schools.
- Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents said it was more difficult than normal to hire supply staff to cover for staff absence.
- 23% said that rates charged by agencies to hire supply staff were higher than normal.
Of the 526 responses in schools eligible for the Covid vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds:
- Vaccinations have taken place in just over a third so far (34%)
- 25% said the scheduled date for Covid vaccinations had been delayed for all or some students beyond the date they had been given by the School Age Immunisation Service.
- 42% of respondents reported that vaccinations are not scheduled to take place in their school before the target date of the October half-term break.
- Most schools have been targeted by anti-vaccination campaigners mainly in the form of emails threatening legal action (79%).
- 13% reported seeing protesters immediately outside their school premises, and 20% reported protesters in the local area.
- Eighteen schools said protesters had gained access and protested inside the school premises, and 20 said they had received communications threatening physical harm to staff.
Comments from headteachers included:
- “This half term has certainly felt much more challenging than this time last year. Things are far from normal currently in schools and it does feel like we are being left to do our best to survive.”
- “At times we have really struggled to maintain face-to-face teaching.”
- “We are close to the point of not being able to operate for every year group if staff absence continues.”
- “Pupil disruption is at an all-time high. Some in, some out, makes it much harder to support remotely and face-to-face.”
- “The impact of Covid continues to rumble on and I expect it will continue to do so. Covid absence creates daily challenges which impact on time for other areas of school and the development of teaching and learning.”
The survey was conducted via an email link to 3,601 headteachers and principals in England on 13 to 14 October. The majority of responses (75%) were from state-maintained secondary schools, with the rest being a mixture of primary and middle schools, colleges, special schools, alternative provision, and independent schools.