HEADTEACHERS will not fine parents who fail to send their children to school in September, teaching unions have claimed.
Ministers have insisted that all children should be back in their classrooms to repair the damage months of lockdown has done to their education.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Headteachers have the power to impose fines of up to £120 per parent – which can in some extreme cases be inflated to £2,500 and three months jail time.
However, unions have said they believe fines are “counterproductive” and they won’t be encouraging their members to use them, reports the Telegraph.
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We think fines will be counterproductive now.
“Where families have deep concerns about coming back, we hope that through engaging with schools, their fears are allayed.
“Talking about fines now is unhelpful. They have always been there and have always been used sparingly.
“Members cannot say don’t use them but they are more motivated by cooperation rather than coercion.”
He added it was premature to talk about fines, saying we need to see “how successful we are in getting children back, then review where we are”.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NAS/UWT, the second biggest teaching union, said: “The Government needs to support schools to apply a sensitive approach that recognises the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, and that some parents will have genuine safety concerns.
“Schools will need to be supported to apply the rules in a way which encourages children to attend school while working constructively with parents to overcome their concerns.”
Downing Street has reminded the nation that education is “compulsory” and warned parents risk fines if they keep their children home despite the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he understands that parents are “a bit worried about their children” but stressed the danger is “very, very, very small”.
He added: “I think it’s vital that parents understand that schools are safe and that teachers have gone to great lengths to get schools ready.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson – who has come under fire for the exams fiasco – said fines would only be used as a “last resort”.
He said: “In terms of fining we would ask all schools to work with those parents and encourage them to bring those children back.”
Schools standards minister Nick Gibb stressed that going to school was not optional and also warned mums and dads they will face fines.
He said: “We live in a country where education is compulsory and I think parents can be reassured that the measures that schools are taking to make sure that we minimise the risk of the transmission of the virus are very effective.”
Downing Street considers the reopening of schools key to getting Britain moving again and it has launched a huge blitz to reassure parents its safe.
Masks on the way into school, extra handwashing, sanitiser and other measures are being put into place to help the smooth return.
Children will be in classroom bubbles as much as possible and will stay 2m away from their teachers.
At the weekend the four chief medical officers across the UK issued a joint statement stressing that kids should be back in classrooms.
They gave it the green light because absence from the classroom fuels inequality across Britain.
Evidence shows there is an “exceptionally small risk” of child deaths from Covid-19, with there being a higher risk of suffering a car crash.
The fatality rate for those aged five to 14 is lower than most seasonal flu infections.
Before the pandemic fines were £60 if paid within 21 days, and £120 after that, but during the health crisis they were effectively suspended.
But it will be up to individual heads to decide if they want to use them.
Parents with concerns about coronavirus and schools have been encouraged to talk to their kids’ teachers and leaders to try and allay their concerns.
Mr Johnson today released a video clip making the argument for the safe opening of all schools next week.
He said: “It’s absolutely vital that pupils get back into school in September.
“It’s vital for their education, it’s vital for their welfare, it’s vital for their physical, and indeed, their mental wellbeing.
“So let’s make sure that all kids, all pupils, get back to school at the beginning of September.”
The PM added: “Now is the time, as we’ve long said, to get pupils back into school, give them the chances they need to build the necessary bedrock for their academic futures.”