THE number of pupils off sick from school in East Lothian remains nearly double pre-Covid levels, despite a return to ‘normal’.

Education chiefs recorded a 13.2 per cent absence rate among children and young people on Friday last week, compared to 13.4 per cent on the same day last year.

But while the rate shows a slight dip in 12 months, it remains far above the absence rate for the same period in 2019, which was just over eight per cent.

The figures come as a meeting of the council’s education committee on Tuesday received what head of education Nicola McDowell said she hoped was their last ever Covid update report.

Mrs McDowell praised teachers and staff for their hard work during the pandemic and revealed that some of the restrictions which had been introduced were being retained by some schools after they were found to have benefits.

They include one-way systems, staggered starting times and virtual parent teacher meetings.

However, Mrs McDowell revealed that one Covid practice which would end would be enhanced cleaning.

She said: “A decision has just been made that enhanced cleaning will end at the summer break. We will still have some fogging in schools.”

The reduced cleaning requirements will mean the council’s facilities staff who have been drafted in to keep schools safe at the expense of other services, such as public toilets, will be able to return to normal duties.

A report on Covid regulations revealed that schools were now able to make their own decisions over which restrictions to continue with.

It said: “Schools have been empowered to make their own local decisions about the cessation or retention of some Covid mitigations.

“For example, for some schools, one-way systems have proved to be particularly successful, as have staggered entry and exit times. In these cases, they will be retained.

“Many of our schools will also retain some virtual meetings with parents and carers, such as parental consultation times, as feedback has been positive and attendance has increased.”

Concerns continue over the impact of Covid on children and young people returning to school environments, and Mrs McDowell said that recovery continued to be a focus, with nurture and reconnection central to education work.

A pedagogy team was introduced using £1.042 million in Scottish Government funding to support schools by providing interventions where needed with an additional 21 teachers and 10 support staff.

Lynsey Blair, Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School headteacher, told the committee that headteachers had been given support from the council to make local decisions which suited their pupils best as they helped ease them back into classrooms and school routines.

She said: “It has been back to basics, nurture and reconnection. It was quite empowering as a headteacher to have that support from the local authority.”

Councillor Fiona Dugdale, education convenor, praised the work of staff and support from unions during Covid and as schools focused on recovery.

She said: “It has been an unprecedented period of challenges we have all endured over the last two-and-a-bit years and the impact on children has been well documented.”