Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said the government “won’t stand back and let attendance fall” after official figures recently showed more than 100,000 children were out of school in England for Covid-19 related reasons.
The Department for Education estimated that 1.5 per cent of all pupils – around 122,300 children – were not in school for reasons connected to the coronavirus on 16 September.
The majority of these pupils either had a confirmed case or a suspected case of Covid.
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Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Zahawi said: “We can’t and won’t stand back and let attendance fall. The education of our children is simply too important.”
His announcement comes as schools in England no longer have to keep pupils in year group “bubbles” to reduce mixing and children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19.
Covid vaccination 'key to keeping children in school'
Instead, they need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.
Headteachers’ unions have warned that educational disruption remains “significant” and some schools are already struggling to keep classes open.
Mr Zahawi, who served as vaccines minister prior to taking over the education portfolio in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle earlier in September, said vaccination was the key to ensuring children were in school.
The Stratford-on-Avon MP noted that vaccination was not mandatory and remained a personal choice, but was critical of those who have abused and threatened school staff over the vaccination rollout.
"As education secretary, I want teachers and students to know that I will always stand up for them and tackle harassment head-on, so teachers can do their vital jobs safely and children can get the education they deserve – regardless of choices made over vaccination,” Mr Zahawi wrote.
Official guidance suggests headteachers who believe that protests could be held outside their school over participation in the Covid vaccination programme should contact police to help manage the situation.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was aware that some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with “misinformation” about the vaccine programme, after ministers confirmed children aged 12 to 15 will be able to get a first jab.
Three million youngsters across the UK are eligible, and the vaccination programme, which began on 20 September, is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.