Many parents around the country have found themselves confused and worried over whether it’s safe to send their children to school – but will they be fined if they don’t?
Millions of children are back at school today across England.
But headteachers, councils and education unions have revolted against the decision – saying it isn’t safe.
Some schools, in high risk areas including London and Kent, have been told to remain closed.
And these closures could be extended in the coming days with coronavirus cases still rising.
But many parents worried by the situation are wondering if they will be fined for not sending their kids to school.
What is the latest official government advice
Government advice, updated on December 30, says: “It is vital for all children to attend school to minimise, as far as possible, the longer-term impact of the pandemic on children’s education, wellbeing and wider development.
“Missing out on more time in the classroom risks pupils falling further behind.
“Those with higher overall absence tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school. School attendance has therefore been mandatory from the beginning of the autumn term.
“This means from that point, the usual rules on school attendance apply, including:
Parents’ duty to secure their child’s attendance regularly at school (where the child is a registered pupil at school and they are of compulsory school age)
Schools’ responsibilities to record attendance and follow up absence
The availability to issue sanctions, including fixed penalty notices in line with local authorities’ codes of conduct.”
Will fines be issued?
Officially, according to the Department for Health website, parents can be fined.
Government rules state that each parent can be fined £60, which rises to £120 each if you do not pay within 21 days.
If you fail to pay the fine within 28 days you can be prosecuted over your child’s absence from school.
If you are taken to court over a child being off school, you could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to three months.
A court could also give a Parenting Order, Birmingham Live reports.
This means you have to go to parenting classes.
You will also have to do what the court says to improve your child’s attendance.
What about kids with possible risk factors?
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government site adds: “If parents of pupils with possible risk factors are concerned, we recommend schools discuss their concerns and provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school.
“Schools should be clear with parents that pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies (for example, the pupil has been granted a leave of absence, is unable to attend because of sickness, is absent for a necessary religious observance).”
The government says you can only allow your child to miss school if either they’re too ill to go in or you’ve got advance permission from the school.
Though some councils have announced they will not be fining parents.
Plymouth Live reports that they will not be fined in the Devon city if they don’t send their kids to school.
A small number of pupils will still be unable to attend in line with public health advice to self-isolate because they have had symptoms or a positive test result themselves, they live with someone that has symptoms or has tested positive and are a household contact, they are a close contact of someone who has coronavirus.
Mirror Online has contacted the Department for Education for further comment.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tried to reassure parents on Monday morning.
He said people should follow the public health advice regarding the reopening of schools and suggested teachers are no more at risk of catching coronavirus than the rest of the population.
He told Sky News: “It is also clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population.
“So there is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people’s long-term health.”
But in a joint statement, unions in the education sector said staff were at “serious risk” of infection by returning to schools and called on the Prime Minister to meet to discuss safety.
The statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite, said: “The Government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.
Matt Hancock on the difficult decisions as to whether schools should reopen
“Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.
“Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed. All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the Prime Minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils to have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government’s own advice from Sage makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That’s in no-one’s interests.
“Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the Prime Minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-secure.”
The government has previously launched legal action against councils for closing schools.
Last month, education secretary Gavin Williamson issued a “temporary continuity direction” to Greenwich council.