Government ‘won’t stand back and let school attendance fall’, Nadhim Zahawi says

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said the Government “won’t stand back and let attendance fall” after official figures recently showed more than 100,000 children were out of school in England for Covid-19 related reasons.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimated 1.5% of all pupils – around 122,300 children – were not in school for reasons connected to coronavirus on September 16.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Zahawi said: “We can’t and won’t stand back and let attendance fall. The education of our children is simply too important.”

It comes as schools in England no longer have to keep pupils in year group “bubbles” to reduce mixing and children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19.

Instead, they need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.

Headteachers’ unions have warned that educational disruption remains “significant” and some schools are already struggling to keep classes open.

Mr Zahawi, who served as vaccines minister prior to taking over the education portfolio in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle earlier in September, said vaccination was the key to ensuring children were in school.

Watch: Children's mental health - Zahawi outlines investment

The Stratford-on-Avon MP noted vaccination was not mandatory and remained a personal choice, but was critical of those who have abused and threatened school staff.

“As Education Secretary, I want teachers and students to know that I will always stand up for them and tackle harassment head on, so teachers can do their vital jobs safely and children can get the education they deserve – regardless of choices made over vaccination,” Mr Zahawi wrote.

Official guidance suggests headteachers who believe protests could be held outside their school over participation in the Covid vaccination programme should contact police to help manage the situation.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with “misinformation” about the vaccine programme, after ministers confirmed children aged 12 to 15 will be able to get a first jab.

Three million youngsters across the UK are eligible, and the programme which began on September 20 is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

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