Number 10 says fining parents ‘will always be the last resort’ as Boris Johnson makes personal plea for kids to return to school
Downing Street said that parents with concerns should speak to the headteacher at their child's school (PA)
Downing Street has insisted that fines for parents whose children don’t return to school will be a “last resort” as Boris Johnson issued a personal plea to get kids back in classrooms next week.
It comes after schools minister Nick Gibb said earlier on Monday that schools would aim to “reassure” parents about the measures taken before resorting to fines.
Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged five to 18 in the UK, and parents could face a £60 fine—doubling to £120 if not paid within 21 days—from the local authority if they fail to comply.
And, as schools prepare to return full-time for all years next week for the first time since March, ministers have aimed to reassure the public that it is safe to send children back to classrooms.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “I think, as has been made clear in the past, fining is obviously a last resort. But we encourage headteachers and parents to speak if they are concerned.
“We’ve been working with schools and local authorities throughout the pandemic to ensure schools are safe to return next week.”
They added: “Fines will always be the last resort. We’ve been working with schools to make sure they are Covid-safe, so kids can return to school next week if parents have any concerns we would encourage them to speak to their local headteacher.”
And, pushed on whether the Government wanted all kids back at the same time amid suggestions schools will open on a part-time rota basis to accommodate social distancing, the spokesperson said: “We’ve been clear from the outset that we desire children to go back full-time from next week.
“That’s why we’ve been working closely with schools and local authorities and others to make sure that happens."
On Sunday, Boris Johnson made a direct plea to parents stressing the importance of resuming teaching.
"As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer,” he said.
"This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends.
"Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school."
Schools minister Mr Gibb on Monday urged parents concerned about bringing their children back from next week to first “have discussions with the headteacher who can reassure them about the measures that they’ve taken”.
And he added: “If they’ve got extra concerns that is a matter between the headteacher and the family to make sure that their concerns are taken into account.
“But it is important, it’s a moral imperative that young people are back in school.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT union for headteachers, meanwhile said his members would be relying on “cooperation rather than compulsion”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The relationship between school and family and school and home is a very precious one and you put that at risk if you start talking about fines and compulsion against the backdrop of a disease that nobody understands and against the backdrop of anxiety that I don’t think you can underestimate at the moment.
“So we don’t think that’s helpful. Everybody understands the need for education.
“And I think with proper engagement from government, real encouragement and the messages about how safe it is and what to do around those areas of risk — if we acknowledge the risk, quantify it and mitigate it, I think there’ll be enough confidence for parents to return their children and we can engage with those that still have a lack of confidence hopefully without fines.”