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Nearly 400,000 UK parents sign petition asking government for greater choice on early return to school

Boris Johnson has announced that children could start returning to school in England from 1 June.

Boris Johnson made a pre-recorded address to the UK last night.
Boris Johnson made a pre-recorded address to the UK last night.
Image: Kieran Cleeves/PA

MORE THAN 380,000 people have signed a petition urging the UK government to give parents a choice on sending their children back to school if they reopen next month.

Boris Johnson has announced that children could start returning to school in England from 1 June – but the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend class until September at the earliest.

Johnson said that the start of June was the earliest possible date to consider the phased reopening of schools.

But now nearly 400,000 people have signed a Change.org petition started by parent Lucy Browne whose daughter is at a primary school in London and would be one of the first to return.

“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,” Browne said. 

“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.

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.

“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.”

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 the youngest children returning to school 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.

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 in the UK 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.

In Ireland, schools are set to re-open properly in September – but yesterday Minister for Education Joe McHugh said it was “too early” to say how exactly schools will be able to open. 

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