A leading education official says Hertfordshire parents who choose to keep their children away from school in September may not face automatic fines.

As schools have started to reopen after ‘lockdown’, attendance has been voluntary – with significant numbers of parents choosing to keep their children away.

But from September attendance at school will be mandatory. And parents who fail to make sure their children are in the classroom could be fined.

At the meeting of the county council’s special cabinet panel on Thursday (July 2), Labour group leader Cllr Sharon Taylor raised concerns about potential fines.

In response, assistant director of education at the council Simon Newland suggested that schools would show discretion before issuing fines.

“I think in Hertfordshire we have always expected our schools – and that’s what they have always done – to exercise discretion when looking to apply different forms of sanctions to parents and pupils who don’t go to school,” he said.

“Because, what we are about is trying to get pupils back in to school where they will benefit and where they will learn – rather than necessarily any kind of punishment regime.

“So it has always got to be informed by what is going to work.”

Cllr Taylor had suggested it would be ‘harsh’ to issue fines, if concerns continued in relation to issues such as social distancing and vulnerability of certain groups such as BAME communities and those with conditions such as diabetes.

And she also asked about information on mental health support that would be on offer in schools and for a breakdown on current school attendance in different areas of the county.

Mr Newland said the council was currently going through the detailed guidance that had been issued by the government and would be supporting schools with that.

And he said that the ‘primary driver’ in that guidance was to get all children back in to school full time from the start of term in September.

He said the question of the differential impact of Covid-19 on BAME pupils was “a difficult one”.

He pointed to anecdotal evidence that in some areas of the county parents of children in BAME community had been more reluctant to send their children back to school.

And he said there was a need to work with schools to communicate with parents – in general and in some communities in particular – of the benefits of returning to school and the confidence they could have in a safe return.

He suggested that more than 99 per cent of primary schools in the county were open for at least one of the Reception, Year 1 or Year 6 cohorts.

And he said this compared favourably to the national average, which he reported to be around 70 per cent.

Data reported to the panel suggested that in June 32 per cent of children in Reception were at school, 29 per cent in Year 1 and 42 per cent in Year 6.