Parents in England could be fined if they do not send their children back to school in September, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said.
Williamson said a return to school will be “compulsory”. Families may face financial penalties if they keep their children at home – unless there is a “good reason” for the absence.
A detailed plan on how the government will ensure that all children in England are back in the classroom in the autumn will be set out by 3 July, the minister said.
His remarks came as Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” on the issue of reopening schools. He added that there has been a “lack of planning”.
Reopening plan promised this week
Williamson said the government is still consulting on how to return all pupils to the classroom in the autumn, but that advice for schools on reopening will be unveiled this week.
He also confirmed on 29 June that families could be fined if they don’t send their children back in September. He told LBC:
It is going to be compulsory for children to return back to school unless there’s a very good reason, or a local spike where there have had to be local lockdowns.
We do have to get back into compulsory education as part of that, obviously fines sit alongside that.
Unless there is a good reason for the absence then we will be looking at the fact that we would be imposing fines on families if they are not sending their children back.
Some children began returning to school at the beginning of June. But, ahead of the phased reopening, the government confirmed that parents who don’t feel safe sending their children back to school wouldn’t face fines.
The latest government figures show that around a third (34%) of all Year 6 children attended school on 18 June. Attendance was around a quarter (26%) in Year 1 and 29% in Reception.
Speaking on Monday 29 June, Boris Johnson said the fact that more pupils aren’t back at school yet is a source of “deep frustration” for him. The prime minister told Times Radio that teaching unions and councils should be saying “loud and clear” that schools are safe.
Asked if there will be a detailed plan by 3 July for a return to school in September, Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There will”. He said:
We’re going to take the opportunity to spell out exactly as to how we will see a full return for all children back into school before the end of this week.
As I’m sure you’ll understand and appreciate at the moment, we’re consulting and talking with different people, whether it’s headteachers, whether it’s unions, whether it’s representative bodies.
‘Forcing the issue’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called for a “period of grace” before fining parents. He said:
We don’t think that it is the right approach to fine parents for the non-attendance of children as soon as schools fully reopen in September, and the Government should not expect schools to take this action.
There will be many frightened and anxious parents out there, and this is very much a case of building confidence that it is safe to return, rather than forcing the issue through the use of fines.
The Government must show a greater understanding of the realities of the situation, and we would recommend that there is a period of grace while normal patterns resume.
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?