The vast majority of parents would like more time to decide whether to send their children back to school in the autumn term without the risk of being fined by the government, research shows.
In a new survey by the charity Parentkind, 74 per cent of parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they would like the right to choose whether their child returns to school between now and December 2020.
In the poll of over 4,800 parents and carers, 44 per cent of respondents in England said they would not be happy for their child to go back to school without any social distancing measures in place, while a further 24 per cent said they were not sure.
John Jolly, chief executive of Parentkind, said the survey showed parents' need for reassurance over the issue.
“It’s clear from our results that more work needs to be done by government and schools to reassure parents and carers that it is safe for children to return to school," he said.
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"A significant number remain undecided about returning their children to school next term, and the majority of parents and carers are wanting the right to make the decision themselves.
"The government needs to be understanding of parents' legitimate concerns, and talking about fining them is not helpful.
“For that reason, we welcome the decision of the Welsh government to respect parents’ wishes in the next academic term and would urge the English government to do the same, allowing parents and carers to make the right decision for them and their families without fear of financial penalties until at least December 2020.”
In late June, education secretary Gavin Williamson said parents would be fined for a child's absence from September.
In the survey, nine in 10 parents and carers wanted their child's school to consult them on reopening plans.
And more than half of respondents – 53 per cent – reported that they were more engaged in their child's learning now than they had been before lockdown.
Some 70 per cent of respondents said their child's school should prioritise pupils' mental health when children return.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "This survey shows that parents are placing far greater trust in school leaders than government, but both those bonds are essential if we are to achieve full opening from September.
"Instead of threatening parents with fines, Boris Johnson should be doing a great deal more to prove that his strategy is right. Schools are doing their best to make good on existing guidance and create safe school environments, but the lack of a plan B from Whitehall is far from reassuring."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said that their guidance to schools had established protective measures such as keeping children in consistent bubbles, and that social distancing being required only in limited circumstances (for example, between teachers) was not the same as no protective measures being in place.
They said: “Regular and full time school attendance from September will be essential to help pupils catch up on time out of the classroom, as well as being important for their wellbeing and wider development.
“Schools should work with families to ensure children are attending full time. As usual, fines will sit alongside this, but only as a last resort and where there is no valid reason for absence.”