More than one in ten secondary school pupils and over a third of school staff who had Covid-19 have suffered ongoing symptoms, figures suggest.
The most common symptom reported by staff and pupils was weakness/tiredness, while staff were more likely to experience shortness of breath than pupils, according to a small study of schools in England.
The survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that about 35.7% of staff and 12.3% of secondary school pupils with a previously confirmed Covid-19 infection reported experiencing ongoing symptoms more than four weeks from the start of the infection.
Among those experiencing ongoing symptoms, 15.5% of staff and 9.4% of secondary school pupils said their ability to carry out day-to-day activities had been significantly reduced.
The Schools Infection Study, from Public Health England (PHE), the ONS and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), questioned staff and pupils in schools in July.
This analysis was based on 5,117 survey responses between July 2 and July 26 – 3,459 pupils and 1,658 staff in primary and secondary school took part.
Of these, 419 staff and 471 secondary school pupils were identified as previously having Covid-19.
The ONS stressed that the data presented in the study was not representative of all schools in England.
Of survey respondents experiencing ongoing symptoms, about half of staff (51.4%) and secondary school pupils (49.1%) reported that their ability to carry out general day-to-day activities reduced a little.
For staff experiencing ongoing symptoms, the majority said their ability to carry out activities at work reduced a little (46.6%) or not at all (43.2%).
Meanwhile, about one in ten staff (10.4%) experiencing ongoing symptoms reported that their ability to carry out activities at work had reduced either by a lot, by about half or they were unable to work because of ongoing symptoms.
The majority of staff (60.9%) who experienced ongoing symptoms more than four weeks after their Covid-19 infection said they had not had any days absent from work as a result .
About 15.9% were absent for five days or less, 10.6% were absent between six and ten days, and 3.3% had been absent from work for 61 days or more.
Meanwhile, 50% of secondary school pupils reported that they attended all of school as normal, despite experiencing ongoing symptoms.
A third of secondary school pupils who experienced ongoing symptoms said they had attended more than half of school, 5.6% attended about half, and 5.6% attended less than half, the figures suggest.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This survey data reveals the largely hidden long-term effects of Covid on both students and school and college staff.
“It is pleasing to note that, despite suffering ongoing and debilitating symptoms, more than half of the staff and young people who responded to the survey had returned to the classroom within four weeks of initially testing positive.
“We obviously have concerns about the number of staff reporting that their ability to perform their normal day-to-day duties had been affected by ongoing coronavirus symptoms such as tiredness and shortness of breath.
“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.”
Dr Shamez Ladhani, consultant paediatrician at PHE and study lead, said: “The study looks at the differences between children and adults in experiencing ongoing symptoms of Covid-19.
“The findings support current evidence that adults are more likely than younger age groups to have ongoing symptoms four or more weeks after infection.
“The study is based on responses from participants in the Schools Infection Survey that had Covid-19 and does not represent the risk of experiencing ongoing symptoms in relation to school settings.”