Education officials are to study attendance data for signs that parents are keeping children away from school because of the Covid-19 virus.

Early indications suggest that 97 per cent of Hertfordshire secondary school pupils returned to the classroom, last week.

And in the county’s primary sector – in those schools where the autumn term had started – attendance levels were around 95 per cent.

The attendance levels were reported to a meeting of the county council’s education, libraries and localism cabinet panel on Tuesday (September 7) by operations director Simon Newland.

Mr Newland said the figures for secondary schools were broadly what would be expected at this time of year.

But he told councillors there would be further work required to assess the data from primary schools.

“The signs from late last week are that the attendance in our secondary schools – those that were open – was about 97 per cent of entitled pupils,” he said. “And that is what one would expect for this time of the year.

“In the secondary phase there is no evidence at the moment that parental concerns are leading people to keep their children at home.

“So that is reassuring against what I think was a perceived risk factor earlier in the epidemic.

“In the primary phase it’s more like 94, 95 per cent – 96 per cent and 99 per cent in some cases.

“We are not quite sure yet whether there is any parental concern that’s leading people to keep children at home.

“It’s clearly only a couple of per cent, if it exists – but a couple of per cent is a lot of children.

“So, we need to do some further work on the data this week to establish with schools whether there are parents with particular concerns – and in any numbers – and how we address that through our attendance processes with our schools.”

At the meeting Mr Newland reported that in May when schools remained open for key workers and the most vulnerable around 4500 children attended, equivalent to 3.5 per cent.

“I think we can be pleased that we and our colleagues in schools managed to achieve that,” he said

And he said that in June, following the end of lockdown, 99 per cent of primary schools had been open for the specified year groups – compared to 70 per cent nationally.

“Great credit to our schools colleagues in the primary phase for their work in making sure that virtually every Hertfordshire child who was entitled to provision received it,” he said.

Mr Newland did not report on the numbers or percentages of pupils who had attended then, but he said there had been a “good” response when opening was extended in July.

Mr Newland did acknowledge that school closures – for all except the children of key workers and the vulnerable – had undeniably led to damage in children’s education.

But he said they were looking to mitigate that – highlighting areas relating to the curriculum, emotional wellbeing and mental health and re-engagement.

He said there was no way to obtain systematic quantifiable information on how good remote learning provision had been.

But he said the county had tried to support schools and that the quality of what they ought to be able to deliver should rise.

And he said : “The concern for me is not so much that we will return to the kind of April situation – in which every school is locked down.

“It is that through the next three to six months some schools may be locked down or some year groups may be quarantining or some pupils may be self-isolating for a fortnight

“There will be a whole load of little impacts on pupils’ learning which the quality of remote learning that’s available will help to mitigate. And again that has been our priority.”

At the meeting it was reported that schools were being allocated an addition £80 per pupil from the government to meet the additional costs of Covid-19.

The county’s operations director Simon Newland said: “There’s a certain amount of complaint about financial pressure, but its not a dominant concern at the moment.”