Gavin Williamson refuses to rule out prosecutions for keeping kids at home during pandemic

31 December 2020, 08:45

By Fiona Jones

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson refused to rule out prosecutions for keeping pupils at home amidst school Covid outbreaks.

The education secretary was challenged on LBC after he announced that primary schools in Covid-19 hotspots will remain closed at the start of the new term while secondary schools will not fully reopen until 18 January.

He told the House of Commons it was a "last resort" that some schools needed to temporarily close where infection rates are highest.

LBC's Andrew Castle asked what would happen if parents did not feel comfortable sending their children back even if their school opened on 4 January. He cited an LBC listener who said that 100 pupils in her child's school suffered Covid over Christmas yet they were expected to return in a few days.

Mr Williamson responded that schools around the country have "always had to deal with this" and suggested they may take a few days to order themselves before children return.

"We see 99% of schools open all the way through summer," he said.

Andrew pointed out: "She doesn't feel comfortable sending her ten year old to school in circumstances like that even if the school does open. You're not going to go around prosecuting people for that, are you?"

The minister said that "schools are incredibly safe places" to which Andrew responded that the listener's school was not.

"Schools operate a system of discretion, we want to see children in school," Mr Williamson said, "children get the greatest opportunities from being in school, that's why we put so much resource, so much effort, in keeping them open."

When making the announcement in the Commons, the education secretary clarified that the "overwhelming majority" of primary schools will open as planned on January 4.

He added: "In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest we will implement our existing contingency framework such as only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face."