Parents demand say on children's return to school as 380,000 sign petition

11 May 2020, 12:45

Parents are calling for a say on the return of their children to classes
Parents are calling for a say on the return of their children to classes. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Hundreds of thousands of parents have signed a petition asking the Government to give people a say on sending their kids back to school if they open again next month.

The Prime Minister used a national address on the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions to announce pupils could start returning to some schools in England from June 1.

He clarified, however, that the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend class until September at the earliest.

Boris Johnson said June was the soonest possible date for the phased reopening of schools starting with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils.

Read more: Coronavirus lockdown - What changes has Boris Johnson made to restrictions?

But now more than 380,000 people have signed a petition calling on the PM to let them have a say before sending their children back to school.

The petition was started by parent Lucy Browne whose daughter is at a primary school in London and would be one of the first to return.

Read more: Coronavirus lockdown - What changes has Boris Johnson made to restrictions?

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Ms Browne said: "Many of us have lost confidence in the Government's handling of this crisis and feel it is too early to return children to schools.

"As a mum I don't want to face serious repercussions for making a choice I feel affects the safety of my daughter during a global pandemic."

Penalty notices are normally issued to parents who fail to ensure their child attends school.

Fines are usually £60 if paid within 21 days, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days. If it is not paid within 28 days, parents can face prosecution.

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Parent Deborah Mawer, who also signed the petition, added: "I have a child with asthma and asthma myself and would not feel safe sending them out to potentially then have us both very very ill."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "It's clear that parents are very nervous about sending their children back to school.

Read more: Scotland removes once-a-day lockdown exercise limit

"I would not like to see a situation where schools are instructed to issue fines for families who do not feel able to send their children to school even if the Government gives them the all clear.

"This would unnecessarily damage the good relationship that schools and parents want and need. School leaders don't want to be issuing fines either."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: "We would not want to see any hint of compulsion, and certainly not fines for non-attendance, as this would be totally inappropriate in the circumstances."

Schools, colleges and nurseries closed seven weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.

Currently parents who have chosen not to send their child to a partially open school during the Covid-19 crisis are not being issued with fines.

It is understood that there are no immediate plans to begin reissuing penalty notices to parents who decide to keep their children at home if primary schools reopen to some year groups in June.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Parents are quite rightly concerned about the risks to their children, not just at school but on their daily journeys to and from school.

"This in turn threatens the safety of adults in the school community: parents, families, teachers, heads and support staff.

"Social distancing for younger children will be difficult to achieve and for others there will be the issues of narrow corridors and classrooms that just aren't big enough to allow social distancing."

The warnings come after a survey last week suggested that most parents do not want to see their children return to school as soon as the Government ends the lockdown.

Only 7% of parents who took part in the Parentkind survey said they would feel comfortable with a July return date if it was confirmed now.

Another poll by Mumsnet found that most parents would not send their children back to school as soon as they reopen.

Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said: "Many parents are seriously reluctant to send their children back to school and some are pretty defiant, saying they're willing to risk fines or officially register their children for homeschooling."

She added that the announcement about Reception and Year 1 children is "causing bafflement and some anger" among parents and a suspicion that decisions are being driven by the need to get people back to work.