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‘No rush’ to fine parents not sending children to school in September

PUBLISHED: 06:39 27 August 2020 | UPDATED: 06:39 27 August 2020

Schools are being urged to scrap non-attendence fines as pupils return following coronavirus closures. Picture: PA Images

Schools are being urged to scrap non-attendence fines as pupils return following coronavirus closures. Picture: PA Images

Archant

Parents anxious about sending their child back to school in September have been urged to discuss their concerns with headteachers amid calls for fines for absences to be scrapped.

Over 250 child and adolescent psychiatrists have signed a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson urging the government not to fine families for refusing to send their children to school.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The threat of fines could force parents of children who feel anxious to send them back to school even if they’re not ready.

“This could have serious consequences on their mental health, especially if they are worried about family shielding.”

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at primary schools in Norwich. Picture: Archant LibraryBinks Neate-Evans, executive principal at primary schools in Norwich. Picture: Archant Library

Sanctions for parents of pupils who were persistently absent from school were relaxed during the coronavirus-enforced school closures.

MORE: ‘Back to school’ campaign launched to encourage children into classrooms

The Department for Education has said from September measures can be pursued once again for those absent without permission.

Legal measures to enforce school attendance can include a parenting order – where parents have to attend parenting classes, education supervision order, school attendance order, £60 fines or eventually prosecution.

Schools have been issued with guidlines including social distancing measures ahead of all pupils returning in September. Picture: Jacob King/PA WireSchools have been issued with guidlines including social distancing measures ahead of all pupils returning in September. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

Enforcement of absence measures is overseen by schools and education trusts who while stressing the return of pupils will be mandatory have urged anxious parents to raise concerns.

Multi-academy Inspiration Trust, with schools in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Thetford, Watton and Hethersett, said: “We recognise that some children may be nervous about returning. This is completely understandable.

“If your child is concerned about returning to school we ask that you let us know so that we can make sure we support them.”

Allan Cadzow, director of children and young people. Picture: Suffolk County CouncilAllan Cadzow, director of children and young people. Picture: Suffolk County Council

Binks Neate-Evans, executive headteacher at the Evolution Academy Trust, which includes 13 primary schools in and around Norwich, said while some parents would be wary about sending their children, schools were likely to avoid fines for non-attendance.

“I think to take a less adversarial route with parents is likely to be more successful,” she said. “We will be looking to try to understand what the barriers are. There are going to be lots of individual circumstances, but I think trying to build trust and communicate to families is working really well.”

Tom Duce, deputy headteacher at Marshland High School in Wisbech, has written to parents to say: “I am acutely aware that this may be a frightening time for some of our students, and some may be apprehensive about returning to school. Our pastoral team will be available to support and reassure all our students.”

Attendance policies are set by individual schools. Picture: Getty ImagesAttendance policies are set by individual schools. Picture: Getty Images

MORE: Parent survey: tell us what you think about schools reopening

Though attendance policies are set by schools, local authorities anticipate that unauthorised absences may increase.

Allan Cadzow, Suffolk director of children and young people, said: “It is important children are in school and we want to make sure we work with families to make sure children are safely in school, but we certainly won’t be rushing to prosecution.”

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “We know how hard schools have been working to secure attendance for vulnerable children and other groups expected to attend and recognise the need to continue to offer all schools some support as pupils return to school.

“Schools will be required to take a balanced approach when dealing with attendance matters, and will need to recognise, and be mindful of the impact that Covid-19 may have had on both the pupil and the wider family.

“The local authority is committed to supporting our schools/academies to work with families to secure a positive return to regular attendance for all of our pupils.

“Key to facilitating good school attendance is clear communication with families in preparation of the full opening of schools and, where concerns arise, early intervention and targeted support plans based on individual pupil needs in the first instance.”


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