Express.co.uk readers can have their say in our poll on whether parents should be fined if they do not send their children back in September. Gavin Williamson has insisted a return to school will be “compulsory” and financial penalties may be handed out if youngsters stay at home unless there is a “good reason” for the absence.
Speaking on Monday, the Education Secretary 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.”
Mr Williamson also suggested the full return to school in September would not rely on social distancing in the same way as other public places.
Gavin Williamson warned parents who don’t send their children back in September could be fined
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s not about one metre, it’s not about two metres.”
The Education Secretary said safety would be based on “reducing the number of transmission points” within schools, with classes becoming “bubbles”.
The Government will set out a detailed plan by the end of the week on getting all children back in the classroom in the autumn.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of being “asleep at the wheel” on reopening schools and blasted a “lack of planning”.
Speaking on Sky News, he said: “If you could put up Nightingale hospitals – a good thing to do – you can certainly put up temporary classrooms, you can certainly take over libraries, community centres.”
And teaching unions have urged the Government not to fine parents who do not feel safe sending their children back to school when they fully reopen.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called for a “period of grace” before slapping families with fines.
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.
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“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.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said the Government should focus on winning the trust of parents.
He said: “Ministers should think carefully before issuing warnings to parents and when the Government has not yet explained how it plans to reopen schools safely in September.
“It is important that the safe return of children to schools is encouraged and that parental concerns are considered seriously and responded to appropriately.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), added: “Working with families in a constructive and supportive way, using scientific information to address concerns, is a far better route than fining parents.
“This can often alienate the very individuals schools most need to reach out to and would always be a last resort.”
Boris Johnson said the fact that more pupils are not back at school yet is a source of “deep frustration” for him.
The Prime Minister told Times Radio on Monday that teaching unions and councils should be saying “loud and clear” that schools are safe.