Gavin Williamson reshuffle

Parents could be fined if they fail to send their children back to school in September, the education secretary has said.

But the decision potentially puts headteachers in the firing line, as they have the final decision on whether to “authorise” absences from school.

Gavin Williamson told LBC this morning that “unless there is a good reason for the absence then we will be looking at the fact that we would be imposing fines on families if they are not sending their children back”.

During the coronavirus outbreak and partial school closures, schools have been told to treat and record every absence as authorised, meaning there have been no fines for school absence.

However, ministers have said they intend to get all pupils back in September, and Williamson signalled his intent to switch back to the usual system to enforce school attendance.

“It is going to be compulsory for children to return back to school unless there’s a very good reason, or a local spike where there have had to be local lockdowns,” he told LBC.

“We do have to get back into compulsory education as part of that, obviously fines sit alongside that.”

However, with many parents signalling that they won’t send their children back in September, the standoff risks putting headteachers in a difficult decision, because it is up to them whether to record an absence as authorised.

Fines are then issued by local authorities for periods of unauthorised absence. Fines are £60, but rise to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Parents who don’t pay fines within 28 days may be prosecuted.