Parents will not be fined for keeping children off school in South Gloucestershire, leader promises

May 21 2020
Parents will not be fined for keeping children off school in South Gloucestershire, leader promises

PARENTS in South Gloucestershire will not be fined if they refuse to send their children back to school next month, the council’s leader has promised.

The pledge comes as opposition members raised fears for the safety of pupils and teachers when the phased reopening of schools in England begins on June 1, starting with children in reception and Years 1 and 6.

A recent national survey of 20,000 families found that 80 per cent planned to keep children at home from June 1.

Normally, truancy could result in a £60 penalty, rising to £120 if left unpaid for more than three weeks.

But South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage told a meeting of the scrutiny commission yesterday, held via a video link (above), that the advice from Whitehall makes clear parents would face no action if they kept their youngsters home because of coronavirus concerns.

Mr Savage said: “That was explicit in the government guidance issued, that there would not be those measures taken.

There will be parents and carers anxious about sending their children back to school.

We want to provide assurance that, as a local authority and working with our schools, our first priority is to keep children and young people safe.

From June 1 we are expecting to see a phased return of our pupils to our schools.

Central to that is the health and well-being of our children, young people and staff and ensuring that what is planned happens at the right time and at the right pace.

That will be different for each individual school.

Our school leaders have been working tirelessly in the planning for the reopening.

Those school plans will need to reflect the communities they serve and will vary as our communities vary.

Each plan for each school will be based upon the need of our pupils, including a risk assessment of staffing and the nature of the school buildings.”

Conservative councillor Mr Savage said the gap was growing between the most disadvantaged children and those from wealthier homes because of the lockdown, adding: “We are very keen that their life chances are not affected any more than they already have been by keeping them away from school any longer than they should be.”

He said he was confident in the advice from the council’s director of public health and the head of education that they were “on the right course”.

Labour group lead for schools Alison Evans told members, meeting remotely, that schools should remain shut until the National Education Union’s guidance on reopening had been satisfied.

She said: “Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also following scientific evidence but theirs is indicating that it is not safe to open on June 1.

How can we be assured that it is safer for children to go to school in South Gloucestershire than in Wales, when it is less than 20 minutes between the nearest schools?

Schools in France returned last week and there have been 70 new Covid-19 cases associated with the wider opening of schools, and seven schools have had to shut their doors again.

This is obviously very disruptive and distressing for those children, their families, staff and the wider community, and is something we don’t want to see in South Gloucestershire.

I therefore urge the council to only keep schools open for the current key worker and vulnerable children until the NEU’s five tests are met and it is safe to invite further children back.”

The union’s five tests are for much lower numbers of coronavirus cases, a national plan for social distancing in schools, regular testing for children and staff, protocols to test a whole school or college when a case occurs followed by isolation, and protections for vulnerable teachers.

Liberal Democrat group leader Claire Young said the Government must publish the scientific evidence on which it based the reopening of schools.

She said: “We want children to go back to school as soon as possible, but only when it is safe.

The Government’s plans seem ill thought-through.

It is wrong for them to put pressure on schools to act without publishing the scientific advice guiding their decision and without working with teachers and schools to put together a workable and safe plan for reopening.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service