Fining parents is a 'distraction' from bigger issues, says former Education Secretary

29 June 2020, 21:38

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Fining parents for not sending their children back to school in September is a "distraction" from bigger issues, a former Education Secretary has told LBC.

Justine Greening, who served as the MP for Putney between 2005 and 2019, told Iain Dale that fining parents was not important unless the government successfully gets the education up and running in the autumn.

Earlier on Monday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC's Nick Ferrari that parents will face fines if they refuse to send their children back to school in September.

He said his number one priority is to make schools secure and safe places following the coronavirus crisis but warned he will reinstate fines for parents unless they have a valid reason for their child being absent.

However, Ms Greening stressed there are far more important issues that the Education Secretary should be focusing on before being distracted by a political debate over fines.

Ms Greening told Iain Dale that fining parents was not a priority
Ms Greening told Iain Dale that fining parents was not a priority. Picture: LBC/PA

She said: "I think the most important thing that the secretary of state for education needs to focus on right now is making sure there is a proper plan for getting our schools open again and making sure that young people and children can catch up on the education they've lost over last few months.

"That, for me, should be the main focus.

"Doing that safely is absoultely crucial; I think that communicating with parents is absolutely crucial; but really, that's where the focus of the debate needs to be, more than whether young people and their parents are going to be fined if they don't turn up.

"I find that a bit of a distraction, frankly, from the bigger issue of making sure we can get our education system kickstarted again."

When pressed on whether fines were appropriate in these circumstances, the former Education Secretary said fines should be used if schools return to normality and are safe to open.

"But at the end of the day, let's make sure that we get schools open safely in the first place," she said.

"I think it's slightly jumping the gun to assume that all of that will be in place, given that we were meant to see children back in school by the 1st of June, but that didn't happen."

She added: "The danger is you end up with a political debate over this when actually the bigger issue is for people to work together on making sure we can get chilren back in school because they've missed a lot of education over the last few months and we know that the young people who have been suffering the most from being out of school were the ones that were further away from a level-playing field and opportunity already."