28th March 2021 by Parents United UK
Parents United UK members are hugely grateful to Layla Moran MP for her response to our evidence submission regarding the impact of school attendance policy during the pandemic. Submitted to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, of which Ms Moran is Chair, we gave quantitative and qualitative evidence regarding fines and pressure to attend being imposed on parents with CV/CEV family members, and the off-rolling of some children in those families.
Ms Moran kindly relayed the outcome of her meeting with Minister of State for Education, Nick Gibb. We are pleased that the Minister stated that Head Teachers do have discretion, and agrees that “the more appropriate thing for headteachers to do is to grant a leave of absence for the child”. We are also pleased that Mr Gibb stated “it was wrong for schools to forcibly deregister or off roll students that weren’t coming to school for CEV/CV relative reasons”.
We believe Mr Gibb’s advice will continue to apply once shielding ceases on 31st March, as he mentioned families with Clinically Vulnerable family members, in addition to those who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and have been asked to shield. By the time shielding ends many CV/CEV adults will not have been fully vaccinated, under 18’s will not have been vaccinated at all, and herd immunity will not have been achieved through full completion of the vaccine programme. This will leave some immune-suppressed people exposed, as they cannot not know to what extent they will be protected once fully vaccinated: this group are reliant on the rest of the population being vaccinated to protect them, as per the content of their shielding letter.
The Education Minister is clearly committed to ensuring the fair treatment of CV/CEV affected households, and we understand the reasons for his stance: fining – and the threat of fines – creates unnecessary stress and work for parents, head teachers and Local Authorities, and places strain on the relationship between those parties. The practice being employed by some schools to try to force attendance of children with CV/CEV household members appears punitive, valueless, and motivated by maintaining favourable attendance figures. Application of pressure and threat of fines often culminates in families being forced into home education which is not truly elective. This is off rolling – the removal of the child from the school roll for the benefit of the school rather than the child – and we implore parents to report it to Ofsted.
If attendance policy were being operated in the best interests of children, students from CV/CEV households would not be forced to accept placing their family members at risk, and would be able to access the same home learning provided to self-isolating pupils. Families who are keeping their children home because of safety concerns are experiencing circumstances beyond their control as a result of the pandemic. It is clear that our members are acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that their children have access to educational material: support from their school in this endeavour would facilitate the easiest reintegration of their child into the school community, as and when appropriate. Without this support, children who need to remain at home will be disadvantaged as a result of their family members disability, and those teachers who support them on the return to school will have greater gaps to address. To this end, Parents United UK have asked the Minister for Education to confirm that children from CV/CEV households for whom absence is authorised should receive home learning support.
It is clear from media stories just how much parents value education: given the year of disruption we have all experienced, keeping a child home is by no means an easy decision to make. Local Authorities have the power to compel attendance of a child about whom they have sufficient and justifiable safeguarding concerns, through the use of School Attendance Orders. School non-attendance is not on its own a sufficient justification for safeguarding concerns. It is the view of Parents United that the processes and resources which were put in place to protect very vulnerable children – who are in even greater need during the pandemic – are being hoovered up by dysfunctional application of attendance policy, and that this is an abuse of an already overstretched system.
The energy some schools are expending to pressurise parents who cannot reasonably send their children to school at this time – but who will be very glad to do so when it is feasible – should instead be invested to the benefit of those children. Ensuring students who need to remain at home are safe, educated and feel part of a supportive and understanding school community is a challenge, but one which some schools have risen to. Attempts to dodge this duty treat children of disabled parents as an inconvenience, and their education and well-being as expendable. It is the view of Parents United UK that this is both unconscionable and discriminatory.