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More than one million children in England were off school last week due to coronavirus-related reasons, official figures show.

It is a new record high since schools reopened in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Can schools recover from the impact of the pandemic?

Data released by the Department for Education shows around 14.3% of all pupils in state-funded schools were absent from class on 15 July – a total of 1.05 million.

This is up from 11.2% on 8 July and 8.5% on 1 July.

Of these, 773,700 pupils were self-isolating due to possible contact with a case of coronavirus from inside school, while 160,300 pupils after possibly coming into contact with a COVID-19 case outside school.

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A total of 47,200 pupils had a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 34,800 pupils were absent as a result of COVID school closures.

Around 34,500 pupils had a suspected case of coronavirus, the data showed.

Meanwhile, an estimated 6.6% of teachers and school leaders were absent due to COVID on 15 July, an increase from 8 July (5.4%) and 1 July (4.2%).

For teaching assistants and other staff, the proportion was estimated to be 6.4% on 15 July, up from 5.2% on 8 July and 3.9% on 1 July.

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COVID-19: School bubbles burst

DfE figures also show that almost one in four pupils were absent from state-funded schools in England on 15 July.

This includes all absences, not just those due to COVID.

Total pupil attendance was 76.7% on 15 July, compared with 80.4% on 8 July and 83.4% on 1 July.

In primary schools, pupil attendance was 82.8% on 15 July, while for secondary schools it was 67.3%.

Reacting to the figures, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “The Conservatives have abandoned the nation’s children with no action taken to turn the tide on rising cases in schools.

“Parents and schools have been crying out for help, but the Conservatives have washed their hands of their responsibility to keep children learning.

“The government must take action to keep children learning for the last week of term, and ensure that by September schools have the support they need to avoid further disruption to children’s education.”

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Schools rescue package ‘completely inadequate’

MP Munira Wilson, health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the country was “in the midst of an education crisis which is worsening by the day”.

“The prime minister needs to act today on this if schools are to return in autumn,” she said.

“He must act without delay to protect millions of children’s mental health and wellbeing. As he told the country last night – If not now, then when?”

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the school bubble system is being scrapped in England and only those who test positive for COVID-19 will have to self-isolate.

From 16 August pupils will no longer have to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone who tests positive.

Schools will also no longer need to stagger start and finish times, and children who are contacted by Track and Trace as being a contact of someone who has tested positive will be advised to take a PCR test.

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Prince William calls for improved online safety after coroner’s ruling in Molly Russell death

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Prince William calls for improved online safety after coroner's ruling in Molly Russell death

Prince William has called for improved online safety for children after a coroner ruled social media contributed to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell.

The Prince of Wales said: “No parent should ever have to endure what Ian Russell and his family have been through. They have been so incredibly brave. Online safety for our children and young people needs to be a prerequisite, not an afterthought.”

The schoolgirl from Harrow, northwest London, was found dead in her bedroom after viewing content related to suicide, depression and anxiety online.

Andrew Walker, the coroner, said he did not “think it would be safe” to give suicide as her cause of death, instead opting for self-harm.

Giving his findings on Friday, he said: “Molly was at a transition period in her young life which made certain elements of communication difficult.”

She was “exposed to material that may have influenced her in a negative way and, in addition, what had started as a depression had become a more serious depressive illness”, he told North London Coroners Court.

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Man, 40, arrested in connection with murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel

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Man, 40, arrested in connection with murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel

Detectives have made another arrest in connection with the murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool.

The 40-year-old man from Dovecot was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender on Friday.

It comes a day after a 34-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of her murder.

The arrest of the 40-year-old is the eleventh arrest in the investigation so far. He remains in custody at a police station for questioning.

The nine other people arrested during the investigation have all been released on bail and no one has been charged.

Olivia was shot dead in Dovecot on 22 August after a gunman entered her home at around 10pm while chasing his intended target.

The girl was struck in the chest after the gunman opened fire, while her mother was injured after being hit in the wrist by the same bullet.

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Suspected remains linked to Moors murders being investigated by police

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Suspected remains linked to Moors murders being investigated by police

Suspected human remains have been found in the search for the final victim of the Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

The remains were found by an author who had been researching the murder of Keith Bennett, a 12-year-old boy who went missing in 1964 and whose body has never been found.

His findings were reported to Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which confirmed it was investigating.

Ian Brady died before revealing where he had buried Keith
Image:
The body of Keith Bennett has never been found

Martin Bottomley, its review officer, said the author had “discovered what he believes are potential human remains in a remote location on the Moors”.

He met with officers on Thursday afternoon to take them to the site of interest, which was assessed that night.

“This morning, specialist officers have begun initial exploration activity,” Mr Bottomley said.

“It is far too early to be certain whether human remains have been discovered and this is expected to take some time.”

Keith’s surviving brother has been told about the investigation, the force said.

It could be a major breakthrough in a case that has been open since the early 1960s.

The final, undiscovered, victim

Brady and his accomplice Hindley sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered five children over two years in the 1960s.

She died in prison in 2002 and he in 2017.

Ian Brady, in a police car prior to his sentencing
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Ian Brady, in a police car before his sentencing

Read more:
The victims of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
Brady and Hindley’s bitter war of words revealed
‘My lucky escape’ from clutches of Moors murderers

The bodies of four of their victims were found buried on Saddleworth Moor in the south Pennines, but Keith’s remains have never been found.

He was taken on 16 June 1964 after going to visit his grandmother.

Brady and Hindley’s other victims were Pauline Reade, 16, who disappeared on her way to a disco on 12 July 1963; John Kilbride, 12, who was snatched in November the same year; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, who was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964; and Edward Evans, 17, who was axed to death in October 1965.

Brady confessed to Keith’s murder, but claimed he could not remember where he was buried.

He died at Ashworth High-Security Hospital in Merseyside, where he had been imprisoned since 1985.

Winnie Johnson never gave up hope her son would be found - but died before his remains were discovered
Image:
Winnie Johnson never gave up hope her son would be found – but died before his remains were discovered

48 years fighting for justice

Keith’s mother, Winnie Johnson, spent her life tirelessly fighting for justice and the right to give her son a Christian burial.

The former hospital worker and mother of nine died of bowel cancer in 2012 without knowing what had happened to him.

Mrs Johnson, who was a single mother, made a final plea to Brady in the weeks before her death to tell her where her son’s body was.

Winnie searching for her son in 1988
Image:
Winnie searching for her son in 1988

Speaking after her death, her friend Pam Ayres said: “She never gave up, I expect to her dying breath she wouldn’t have given up. Certainly, with every bit of her spirit and her will, she wouldn’t rescind that power to those people who took him.”

John Ainley, the lawyer for Keith’s brother, Alan, said he had spoken to him about the development.

“My client is keeping an open mind on the latest report having regard to earlier such reports that have raised expectations but not resulted in finding Keith’s body.

“Naturally, the family are hoping that Keith has been found after all these years and their tireless efforts to find closure.

“I understand Greater Manchester Police are investigating a site of interest but that it will take some weeks to establish whether there is a connection with Keith.”

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