Gavin Williamson says parents will be fined if they fail to send children back to school
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Credit: PA)
Parents who fail to send their children back to school as lockdown restrictions continue to ease will face fines, Gavin Williamson has warned.
The Education Secretary told LBC he expected to see all youngsters return to the classroom in September "unless there is a very good reason" or local lockdowns are imposed.
"What we will see in September is that every school, every child and every lesson will be running and children will be able to go into school and able to have the benefit of world-class education that we provide," he said.
According to government figures, the number of children who have returned to school stood at about 1.5 million last week.
"I want to see that number grow, grow and grow every single week as week as we go towards the summer holidays, but in September every child has to be back," Mr Williamson added.
Ministers intially said all primary-aged pupils would be back in the classroom for the four weeks before the summer holidays begin in July, but abandoned the plans as part of a "cautious, phased approach".
Asked how the government would reassure parents concerned about their children's health, the Education Secretary said: "We will make sure that we are in a position of creating schools that are secure and safe places for not just children to go to, but also for people to teach in and to work in, so that's our number one priority.
"But I had the privilege of seeing my eldest daughter go back to school - a year 10 - and when they come back you see the pleasure that they have had from learning from slightly more qualified people than myself in terms of teaching them science, or maths, or English.
"You see the pleasure of being with their friends again. Yes it's about learning, but it's all the other things that schools bring."
Mr Williamson said ministers would continue to take a cautious approach, but that the government was clear that "school is the best place for a child to be".
"It is going to be compulsory for children to return to school," he added.
"Unless there is a good reason for the absnece then we will be looking at the fact that we will be imposing fines on families if they are not sending their children back."
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of being "asleep at the wheel" in terms of planning for children to return and said a dedicated taskforce should have been set up "two to three months ago".
He told Sky News: "There has been a total lack of planning. From the day the schools were shut down, it was obvious what needed to happen to get them back open again.
"You needed a risk assessment, and you needed to look at the space. I've talked to loads of headteachers, and the points they have made to me were obvious and practical and could have been overcome."