The Department of Education published findings on Tuesday which show that 1.05 million children – approximately one in four pupils – in state-funded schools were absent on July 15.

The absence rates from mid-July are the highest ever reported since schools welcomed children back in March 2021. The figures showed a 3% increase of pupils off of school from the previous week and an almost 6% increase since July 1. On June 24 one in 20 pupils – approximately 375,000 children – were absent from school in England, marking a stark contrast to the number of pupils off just three weeks later.

However, coronavirus infections themselves are not the main culprit for the record number of pupils missing school, as less than 50,000 children were off due to having a confirmed case of the illness. In contrast, the bulk of students (almost 774,000) were missing time in the classroom because of needing to self-isolate after coming into contact with a classmate with coronavirus.

The findings coincide with the government’s scrapping of the school bubble system from July 19 onwards as part of the wider easing of measures on ‘Freedom Day’. Under the previous guidelines, whole classrooms could be mandated to isolate if a peer in the class tested positive for coronavirus. Other restriction relaxations include under-18s no longer being required to self-isolate after coming into contact with a case from August 16. Instead, minors will just need to take a PCR test.

While the previous system disrupted the learning of hundreds of thousands across the country, several scientists penned a letter to the government published in the Lancet medical journal on July 7, insisting that isolation was the lesser of two evils. The 120 signatories of the missive insisted that high transmission rates in schools are more dangerous and disruptive than isolation, especially to vulnerable children, as the UK has not yet approved a wide vaccination campaign for its under-18s.

Although many countries across the globe have approved coronavirus vaccines for minors, the UK has been much more hesitant. Sajid Javid announced on Monday that only children who are over 12 and clinically vulnerable, or live with someone who is, are eligible for the vaccine. Adolescents a few months shy of their 18th birthday will be able to get jabbed soon.