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Parents must return their children to school full-time in September – or risk being fined, the government states.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC it’s “compulsory” for children to return – unless there is a very good reason, or a local spike. “We have to get back into compulsory education, and fines sit alongside that,” he said.
A Department for Education spokesperson told HuffPost UK this is because regular and full-time attendance at school is “essential” to help pupils catch up on time out of the classroom during lockdown.
“In all our decision-making, we have balanced the need to continue to control transmission of Covid-19 with the real and ongoing cost to children’s learning, welfare and health from being out of school,” she said. “Schools should work with families to ensure children are attending full-time from September.”
If you’re unsure about sending your child back, here’s everything you need to know.
Will I be fined for not sending my child back to school?
Under current regulations, schools must put their children’s names on the admissions register. If a pupil doesn’t attend school, they’re marked as absent. This absenteeism can be either authorised or unauthorised.
If unauthorised by the school, the absence can be referred to the local authority who can issue a fine of £60, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. This fine was waived during the peak of the pandemic, but will be reinstated from September.
Could I challenge a fine on appeal?
If a fine is issued, there’s no right to appeal. If you don’t pay, the local authority can proceed to prosecution through the courts or withdraw the notice. However, Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm, told HuffPost UK that while parents could face fines for keeping their kids off school, it’s “unlikely” there will be an all-encompassing, strict approach. “The issue of local lockdowns and quarantining will probably play a part in the decision making,” she said.
“Fines are certainly possible, but it’s likely that an open dialogue with schools and the local authority will become the first point of call in order to build trust with families before hastening to fines.”
What if I just keep my child away from school, anyway?
Schools are required to inform the local authority of any child who is regularly absent from school. Together, they can use several legal powers to enforce attendance. These include: a fine, an Education Supervision Order (a supervisor will be appointed to help you get your child into education); a Parenting Order (this means you have to go to parenting classes); or a School Attendance Order (you have 15 days to provide evidence your child is receiving education).
You could be given one or more of these, but the council doesn’t have to do this before prosecuting you.
What if I’m too anxious to send my kids back?
The guidelines state schools should bear in mind the concerns of families who are anxious about returning – and put the right support in place to address those concerns. If you’re worried about the return, book in an appointment with the headteacher to see what measures the school is putting in place.
However, the government’s stance is that it is parents’ “duty” to ensure those of compulsory school age are in school – unless a statutory reason applies.
What statutory exceptions are there?
Statutory exceptions include when a pupil has been granted a leave of absence; is unable to attend because of sickness; or is absent for a necessary religious observance. They can also include when they’re being educated off-site, when there is a medical appointment or when the child has been formally excluded.
What if my family is high-risk?
If your family is considered vulnerable, or high-risk, you should discuss your concerns with the school. This may include: pupils who have been shielding, but have been advised this is no longer necessary; those living in households where someone is vulnerable; or those concerned about the increased risk from Covid-19, including those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, or conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Schools should provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk of transmission.
What if I’m shielding?
Current advice states even if you’ve been deemed clinically extremely vulnerable, you do not need to shield at the moment because the rates of transmission of coronavirus have fallen significantly.
What if my child is self-isolating?
The government has updated their school attendance guidance for the 2020-21 academic year, to make sure pupils who are self-isolating will not be marked as absent. The same applies to any child whose attendance might contradict coronavirus guidance or legislation.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.