One in six parents are “seriously considering” keeping their children out of school, a poll has revealed as ministers insist that fines will not be waived for truancy.
Around four in 10 schools in England will reopen fully today for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown in March, with the remainder opening by the start of next week.
Ministers also hope Tuesday will mark the start of a mass return of workers to their offices, as parents who have had to work from home to look after their children are finally freed to go back to the workplace.
But 17 per cent of mothers and fathers are seriously considering keeping their children out of school in September, according to YouGov’s Parents Omnibus survey.
This includes six per cent who said they are “very seriously” considering keeping their children at home, and 11 per cent who are “fairly seriously” considering it.
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, insisted that the rules on school attendance – including fines for parents who fail to send their children in – apply from today for schools in England.
“School is mandatory in this country,” he told Sky News. “We believe in compulsory education. Fines have always been the last resort for headteachers, but it is a last resort, a tool they have to make sure young people are attending school.”
Acknowledging that some parents will be concerned about Covid-19, he said that they should speak to the school’s headteacher who can explain about the safety and hygiene measures they have in place to keep children safe.
"Schools will have their own approaches to attendance. Many schools will be phoning up parents to make sure they are attending,” Mr Gibb said.
“I’ve heard of headteachers organising a walking bus to talk to families who are concerned and to encourage them to come into school.”
The Department for Education said it expected all pupils to return, and that parents would only be fined for their children’s non-attendance as a “last resort”.
The National Association of Headteachers has called for an amnesty on fining parents to be put in place for the whole of this term, suggesting its members would be refusing to impose the £120 penalties.
YouGov’s poll of over 650 parents of school age children in England and Wales found that the majority (53 per cent) of mothers and fathers were not at all seriously considering keeping children at home, while a further six per cent were unsure.
Almost half (48 per cent) of parents think it would be unfair to fine those who don’t send their children to school because of the pandemic, while 39 per cent say it is justified.
The YouGov survey also found that just over a third (36 per cent) of parents are opposed to secondary school children wearing masks in schools, with 47 per cent saying they are in favour.