A FAR higher percentage of teachers in Essex were off as a result of coronavirus before Christmas in other parts of the country, new figures have revealed.

Department for Education (DfE) figures show 169 teachers and school leaders in Essex state schools were off with either a suspected or confirmed case of Covid on December 17.

There were another 472 who were forced to isolate.

This means a total of 641 were off for Covid-19 related reasons on just one day - 7.9 per cent of all teachers in schools which remained open.

A week earlier 5.9 per cent of teachers in Essex were off for Covid related reasons and on October 15 this figure was just 1.7 per cent.

The absence rate in Essex is almost double the average for England, where 4.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were off due to coronavirus on December 17.

On this day, 95.3 per cent of schools that responded to the survey in Essex were open, after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened one council with legal action to prevent it closing schools.

It is not known how many teachers in closed schools had coronavirus at the time, so the figures are likely to be under-estimates.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The level of staff absence as a result of coronavirus is obviously affected by local infection rates, and the turbulence of the past few months has put schools under enormous pressure.

"It shows why it is important that the Government prioritises education staff in phase two of the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme.

"This will provide reassurance to staff and it will minimise further disruption when schools are fully open again."

The DfE figures also show 931, or 7 per cent, of teaching assistants and other school staff in Essex were absent for coronavirus-related reasons on December 17.

Of them, 190 had either a suspected or confirmed case of the disease, and 741 were isolating.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the new figures show every school is experiencing the impact of Covid-19 differently, and therefore it was a sensible idea to reopen areas at different speeds.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, added: "If that is the Government’s plan, then we would urge them to provide clarity sooner rather than later on the local conditions that will need to be met.

"This will give vital time to prepare and enable a smoother reopening of schools and businesses.”

A DfE spokeswoman said the Government will keep plans for the return to school under review, but will work to reopen them as soon as possible.