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New research finds no evidence that schools are playing a significant role in driving spread of the Covid-19 virus in the community

New research led by epidemiologists at the University of Warwick has found that there is no significant evidence that schools are playing a significant role in driving the spread of the Covid-19 disease in the community, particularly in primary schools.  However, careful continued monitoring may be required as schools re-open to stay well informed about the effect they have upon community incidence.

The paper examines data on school absences from September 2020 to December 2020 as a result of COVID-19 infection, and how that varied through time as other measures in the community were introduced.

The new research has just been published in a preprint paper that has yet to be peer reviewed, entitled: “An analysis of school absences in England during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The paper notes in particular that:

· Cases in teachers were seen to decline during the November lockdown, particularly in those regions that had previously been in Tier 3, the highest level of control at the time.

· In many regions cases in secondary school pupils increased for the first two weeks of the November lockdown, before decreasing.".

· Since the introduction of the tier system, the number of absences owing to confirmed infection in primary schools was observed to be significantly lower than in secondary schools across all regions and tiers.

· In December, the data indicates a large rise in the number of absences per school in secondary school settings in the South East and Greater London, but such rises were not observed in other regions or in primary school settings. The researchers conjecture that the increased transmissibility of the new variant in these regions may have contributed to this rise in cases in secondary schools.

· The researchers observed a positive correlation between cases in the community and cases in schools in some regions, with some weak evidence suggesting that cases in schools actually lag behind cases in the surrounding community.

The corresponding author on the paper Dr Mike Tildesley from the University of Warwick said:

“Our analysis of recorded school absences as a result of infection with COVID-19 suggest that the risk is much lower in primary than secondary schools and we do not find evidence to suggest that school attendance is a significant driver of outbreaks in the community”

Dr Edward Hill also from the University of Warwick said:

"During the first two weeks of the November lockdown we observed an increase in pupil absence as a result of infection with COVID-19, yet in the following weeks the data indicates that in several regions there was no subsequent rise in COVID-19 caused teacher absence. It is important to note that our findings only refer to cases reported in school children and teachers, and do not provide an indication as to whether these individuals were infected within the school environment. "


The Science Media Centre will be offered an online briefing for media on this paper at 1.10pm on Monday 15th of February 2021 with Dr Mike Tildesley and Dr Edward Hill. For details on that briefing contact Fiona Lethbridge

For the University of Warwick please contact:

Tom Frew - Senior Press and Media Relations Manager
University of Warwick
Telephone: +44(0)7785433155

Notes for editors

The full list of researchers on the paper is:

Emma Southall1,2‡ , Alex Holmes1,2‡ , Edward M. Hill1 , Benjamin D. Atkins1 , Trystan Leng1 , Robin N. Thompson1 , Louise Dyson1 , Matt J. Keeling1 , Michael J. Tildesley1* . 1 The Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology & Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research, School of Life Sciences and Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom. 2 Mathematics for Real World Systems Centre for Doctoral Training, Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom. ‡These authors contributed equally to this work. * Corresponding Author. Email:

Dr Louise Dyson, Dr Edward Hill, Professor Matt Keeling, Dr Michael Tildesley all serve on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which gives expert advice to the Department of Health and Social Care and wider UK government on scientific matters relating to the UK’s response to an influenza pandemic (or other emerging human infectious disease threats).

15th February 2021 PJD