How Many Teachers Have Actually Died of COVID 19?

This piece is from Karam Bales, a member of the national executive of the NEU. Karam is writing in a personal capacity.

I’ve been looking into deaths of educators, the few reports of death figures circulating in some parts of the press came from my original research on the day the ONS figures were released. When it was released there was much talk about the number of COVID deaths in various occupations but no mention of educators, which I did find odd as I had seen several reports in previous weeks regarding the number of educators who had died. 

ONS data on deaths by occupations: The data as of 20th April and I believe collection began around 10th March.

Although teaching professionals are covered in the major subgroups I went through the extensive data to find other occupations working in education settings. This is what I found:

Seventy-five confirmed COVID deaths for Education & Childcare staff.

.Teachers 43 

.Teaching assistants 10

.Lollipop ladies 6 

.Childminders 6 

.Principals 4 

.Nursery & play-workers 4 

.School secretaries 2 

And the total number of deaths from all causes for teachers was 238.

For comparison:

Nurses COVID: 38 total: 127

Police officers COVID: 9 total: 39

Bus+coach drivers COVID: 30 total: 79

Postal workers COVID: 20 total: 80

Cleaners(work/domestic/street) covid: 42 total: 206

Of course, this is only raw data, and we need to look at a measure like the percentage of deaths per thousand workers for a more accurate picture. There is more data available for teaching professionals, so I decided to look at them in more detail.

The comparison that has been made that the death rate in teachers is lower than healthcare workers and equivalent to other similar professions. The comparator being used is Business, civil and public service professionals (this is quite a broad category covering office workers to those involved in social services and public health). With everything going on in the past few weeks.

In the data, the death rate of confirmed COVID deaths in teaching professionals is around 8% higher than the Business and public health professionals, this does seem statistically significant.

However, what does concern me is the total deaths of teachers in these two months being 238. I believe this could show a significant excess of unconfirmed. I wanted to find a five year average of in-service teaching deaths to calculate an excess deaths figure, but I haven’t been able to find it when searching in the occasional scraps of spare time I have.

However, I did find this report from the NAHT that had looked at the 2018 school workforce statistics that are published annually. Total deaths for the whole of 2018 for in-service deaths was 130.

I find the fact that 130 teachers died in the whole of 2018 compared to 238 in a two month period alarming, suggesting a possible excess death rate of upwards of 200. The question has to be asked what is the cause, and how many are undiagnosed COVID?

Considering testing is only recently becoming more readily available and was reserved primarily for healthcare workers, I feel it can be assumed that there would be less unconfirmed COVID deaths in healthcare workers than in teaching professionals. It is also worth noting that while some of these deaths will be from infections contracted before the partial closure of schools, for most the period covered by the ONS report we have only had an average of around 2-5% of students in the building. I think it is essential to know the risks before student numbers increase particularly considering that many infant schools which aren’t attached to a junior school will be expected to have around 70% of their students back in school within a couple of weeks.

With the safety of increasing student numbers in schools a pressing issue, with statements being made that teachers are less at risk than other occupations. I believe that trying to make sense of these statistics is vital in informing the debate. 

The data is openly available from ONS we would welcome any answers from anyone. I have been told today that official figures will be released in the next few week to make a better comparison, I’ll update this piece as soon as I have that data.

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