A headteacher will next week begin handing down fines to cautious parents who refuse to send their children back to classrooms.
Tina Wilkinson revealed that 25 pupils were absent from St Andrew’s Primary School in Lancashire this week, despite her repeated warnings of penalties.
She told MailOnline that her school has a historic problem with attendance and has enforced a zero-tolerance approach even if does ‘not make me popular’.
Fines are doled out after five absent days, meaning that the nervous parents have until Tuesday to either send their children to lessons or register to home-school – else they will face the charges.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said fines will be handed down as a ‘last resort’ for parents who refuse to send their children back to class.
Typically children can only be absent if they are sick or have prior permission from the headteacher.
Parents whose children are marked with an unauthorised absence can be handed a £60 fine, doubling to £120 if not paid within three weeks – with the threat of prosecution if the charges are continually avoided.
Parents are entitled to home-school their children, but Ms Wilkinson’s frustration was directed towards those whose children are registered with the school but are absent.
She told ITV’s This Morning: ‘From our point of view, we do have a problem with attendance, a lot of the children don’t come to school regularly and on time and that’s not fair to us and to the teachers when we’re trying to get things done.
‘And although I wouldn’t say that I particularly agree with fining, it does work and it’s a choice – one or the other. It can’t be an in-between thing.’
Ms Wilkinson acknowledged that some parents remain nervous about their children mixing in classrooms while the country continues to fight with coronavirus.
But she stressed that efforts have been ramped up to shield her pupils from the risk of contamination, including hand-washing stations, pedal bins, giving children their own packs and scrapping whole-school assemblies.
Similar measures to make schools Covid-secure have been adopted by teachers across the country as millions of pupils in England returned this week.
Yet one mother-of-two remains unconvinced about the standards of safety and is planning to home-school her children for two years.
Kerrie Stanford from Suffolk, has also banned sons Zac, nine, and Danny, seven, from meeting their friends except for via Xbox or on Zoom.
She told This Morning: ‘If we have to self-isolate then our finances will tank and we will lose everything
‘That’s obviously part of it, none of us want to get ill anyway… perfectly healthy people are suffering with long Covid and it’s just not a risk we want to take.
She added: ‘It took us a little while to find our feet, the trouble we had and a lot of other parents is they tried to recreate school at home, I just went with the flow and asked the boys what they want to learn about, we learned about boats, we went to collect sticks in the woods and incorporated science and maths into those subjects.’
And she went on: ‘We’re not fully isolating we are going out for walks regularly, they’re not (seeing their friends) and they do speak through the Xbox and Zoom calls and if the numbers drop they can see their friends over the weekend if we keep a distance.
‘The reason I’m not taking that risk is every day we’re learning new things about it and we just don’t know enough.
‘We don’t know what will happen when they’re all back together and shoved back together.
She added: ‘We’re looking at doing this for a couple of years at least, thanks to modern technology the curriculum can be found online, I already know from the school the subjects they would have been learning and we will use those as our main topics.’
Millions of children across England and Wales are going back to school this week, following the return to lessons of pupils in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
As the rate of infection gathered pace in March, Boris Johnson made the decision to close the schools.
Sending pupils back to school became a ‘national priority’ for the government as the pandemic began to wane and the country emerged from lockdown.
Kerrie Stanford from Suffolk, has also banned sons Zac, nine, and Danny, seven, from meeting their friends except for via Xbox or on Zoom
But ministers faced constant hurdles, including opposition from some teacher union bosses who urged their members not to go back to work.
In August, a survey by the Office for National Statistics showed that two-thirds of parents were nervous about sending their children back to school while Covid-19 remained present.
Ministers made repeated assurances about children’s safety, but confidence ebbed away from the government in the wake of the exams fiasco.
As parental fears threatened to scupper the return to school, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, made a rare broadcast appearance to allay concerns.
He stressed that the chances of children catching coronavirus in schools was minimal and, for primary school pupils, the risk was actually less in classrooms.
He added that the long-term damage of missing lessons far outweighed any tangible health risks.
Schools have been working over the summer to make their classrooms Covid-secure and enforce social distancing.
After a government climbdown, headteachers also have the discretion to require face coverings, although this is not compulsory.