James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Schools report high attendances as pupils in England return
5 September 2020, 06:50
The majority of schools in England reported attendance rates above 80% this week as pupils returned to the classroom, a poll has found.
Headteachers across the nation welcomed back students in all year groups for the start of the autumn term on Tuesday, with the remainder due to return next week.
A poll conducted by the school leaders union' NAHT suggested that more than nine in ten schools enjoyed attendance rates of above 80%.
Meanwhile, four in five schools saw attendance rates climb above 90%, according to the survey.
For those pupils not present, school leaders said their main reasons were that they were either quarantining following a trip abroad, were still away on holiday, or were suffering from a non-coronavirus-related illness.
Only one in five of those polled said they had a child in their school who had not attended due to their parents being too nervous to send them back.
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Similarly, only 20% of school leaders said they had a pupil who was absent because they were self-isolating following contact with someone infected with Covid-19.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was "encouraged" to see such a high number of children reuniting with their classmates after schools reopened this week.
"Once again, I'd like to thank staff for their hard work throughout the summer holidays getting all schools and colleges ready for a safe return," he said.
"More schools will continue to open to all pupils next week, following teacher training days and inductions for new year groups.
"It's vital that time is taken to fully settle into new routines and I am confident we have the right contingency plans to deal with any challenges."
This week marked the first time most pupils entered the classroom since lockdown began in March, forcing schools across the country to close.
Although fines will be in place for parents who refuse to send their children back to school, the Department for Education said they will only be used as a "last resort".
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This is a remarkable achievement, but we should not take anything for granted because we know that restrictions may well be likely as we get deeper into this term.
"What's important is that the government gives very clear messages to schools and parents from now on so that attendance can remain high."
Mr Whiteman added: "Obviously for some, the anxiety of coronavirus means that they do not feel able to send their children to school.
"Schools will work compassionately with these families and they should not be shamed or fined, which is why we are restating our appeal to the government to take the threat of fines off the table."
The findings come after a school in Staffordshire was forced to temporarily close as a precaution on Friday after a student tested positive for Covid-19.
JCB Academy in Rocester - which reopened its doors at the end of August - has now asked 100 students who came into contact with the infected individual to self-isolate for the next 14 days.
Jenny McGuirk, principal of the school, said: "We have taken swift and decisive action to mitigate any risks and the measures we have taken go above and beyond the advice given to us from Public Health England.
"In the meantime, the JCB Academy will reopen on Monday for the remaining 700 students. Those who are self-isolating will be able to access learning on Google Classroom for their lessons."
She added that robust measures were put in place - including compulsory hand sanitising and the wearing of face masks between classrooms - before the school reopened for the autumn term.