Norfolk parents could still be fined over pupil absence during second lockdown
- Credit: Drayton Junior School
Parents who do not send their children into school during the next national lockdown risk facing fines, the Department for Education has confirmed.
England will be subject to a fresh national lockdown from Thursday, lasting until December 2, prime minister Boris Johnson has said.
But, unlike the first lockdown which began on March 23, schools, colleges and universities will stay open - with fines for the parents of non-attending pupils in place.
The news comes as the National Education Union (NEU) warned that keeping educational settings open is an unsafe “half-measure” and called for them to close to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
Mike Smith-Clare, Norfolk Labour’s spokesman for children, said: “So many parents are in a quandary as what to do for the best. Their immediate concern will be the health and well-being of their children and families.
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“This is totally acceptable - such worries should be met by support rather than punitive threats.”
He added: “Yet again education is being vilified - with parents, teachers and children being held to account by a government apparently ignorant of its own continual failings.”
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But Norwich headteacher, Binks Neate-Evans, said: “Schools have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to make sure schools are safe and feel safe for staff children and for parents. We strongly advocate the very best attendance as we know the link between that and positive outcomes for children.
“Largely we have seen good attendance with valid reasons for any absences. They are either linked to Covid-19 or other childhood illnesses that we would expect to see, particularly in autumn and winter.”
Ms Neate-Evans, executive principal at Bignold Primary and Nursery, Angel Road Junior and Angel Road Infant and Nursery schools, added: “We recognise that across society people have different views about COVID 19. There are differences, too, in the way the worry manifests itself.
“We have been incredibly well supported by our families and we want to continue to work in partnership. Part of this is being empathetic and compassionate about the huge challenges many families are facing.
“We still stand by the principle that working with families that are very worried works far more effectively than taking an adversarial stance by threatening a legal process resulting in fines. In this way we can listen, work together and try and understand perspectives and explain how we minimise risk.
“Any prolonged absence that the school doesn’t feel is genuinely in the best interest of the child would be managed on a case-by-case basis.”
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We’re very grateful for all those working across education for the huge efforts they continue to make to support children’s learning in these difficult times.
“The Department for Education expects schools to work with families and the local authority to secure regular school attendance for all pupils in line with statutory requirements.
“We recommend schools take a balanced approach when dealing with attendance matters, recognising the impact that Covid-19 may have had on both the pupil and the wider family.”
“We continue to provide advice and support, including visiting some schools to look at the measures that they have put in place to help reduce the spread of any infection.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: “We are prioritising children’s and young people’s education and wellbeing, by keeping nurseries, schools, colleges and universities open.
“The Chief and Deputy Chief Medical Officers have highlighted the risks of not being in education on their development and mental health.”
She added: “Schools should work with families to ensure children are attending full time.
“As usual, fines will sit alongside this, but only as a last resort and where there is no valid reason for absence.“