More than one in 10 pupils and over a third of school staff with Covid continued to suffer symptoms four weeks after infection, according to new data which may shed some light on the scale of long Covid in schools in England.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 12.3% of secondary school pupils and 35.7% of staff with a confirmed Covid infection reported continuing symptoms, including weakness, tiredness and shortness of breath, four weeks later.
Of those with continuing symptoms, 9.4% of pupils and 15.5% of staff said the impact was so severe that their ability to carry out their day-to-day activities was significantly reduced.
Half of pupils said they were able to attend school as normal despite persistent symptoms, while a similar proportion of staff (46.6%) said their symptoms had reduced their ability to carry out activities at work “a little” or “not at all” (43.2%).
A third of pupils with continuing symptoms attended more than half of school, while 5.6% attended less than half. Among staff, 60.9% with enduring symptoms did not have to take time off, 15.9% were absent for five days or less and 3.3% were absent from work for 61 days or more.
The ONS findings were based on survey responses from about 3,500 pupils and 1,600 staff. Symptoms were self-reported rather than clinically diagnosed and the ONS cautioned the data should not be taken as representative of all schools in England.
“Results should be interpreted with caution because it is not known how many people would have experienced these symptoms even if they had not been infected with Covid-19. The survey response rate of 20% also means that the findings may be subject to response bias,” the report said.
The survey forms part of the Schools Infection Study (SIS), from Public Health England (PHE), the ONS and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who surveyed staff and students in schools in July.
Fiona Dawe, SIS deputy director, said the new data mirrored findings from previous studies which similarly showed adults more likely than younger people to report continuing symptoms. “Capturing the experiences of pupils and staff post-infection will form a crucial part of the response to the pandemic as we move into autumn and winter,” she said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These findings again reinforce the importance of the Covid vaccination programme, including 12- to 15-year-olds, in helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in schools and colleges.”