Parents worried about Covid ‘should not face school absence fines’
Penalties will be used as a 'last resort'
07 September, 2020 — By Helen Chapman
Camden’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason
PARENTS who choose to keep their children home from school due to their coronavirus fears are still at risk of being fined, after the government ordered classroom teaching to begin again.
Although the council said fines are always a “last resort” for parents, unions are calling for the penalty notice procedures to be waived amid the Covid crisis.
Hugo Pierre, Unison’s lead for school workers in Camden, said: “Our position is there should be no fines. We want to take this up with the local authority because we think that parents should not be fined in these circumstances Schools are carrying out individual assessments for staff most at risk. We want schools to remain vigilant about potential risks.”
He added: “If the levels start to go up then we will be telling our members it is not safe. We think the council and local health protection teams are the best places to run the test, track and trace system. We want the system to be 100 per cent operational. It should have been the key thing for the government but they have behaved recklessly.”
Last week there were 33 new coronavirus cases in Camden.
Gerald Clark from Camden NEU said: “The National Education Union thinks it’s right that schools are open again this week to all pupils and would encourage parents to send their children, but we don’t ever believe that fining parents is the right approach to take.”
He added: “There are always reasons why parents are either nervous about sending their children into school or unable to insist that they do. The National Education Union believes that it should be the role of a fully funded education welfare service to work with those families.”
Mr Clark added: “Sadly the funding to schools and local authorities has been slashed so much by successive governments that many of these services are operating on a skeletal basis, if that.”
Camden Council’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “The current government guidance states that fines should be issued if there is no valid reason for absence.
However, the council will always work with schools to support families and address parents’ and pupils’ concerns about attendance and only issue penalty fines as a last resort.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “It will be mandatory from this term to go back into school. Fines have always been a last resort measure for headteachers even in normal times and when parents and families do have concerns about their child coming to school they should talk to their headteacher who will be able to reassure them that school is safe.”