Parents who do not send children back to school in September could be fined
Gavin Williamson said a return to school will be "compulsory" and families may face financial penalties if they keep their children at home - unless there is a "good reason" for the absence.
His remarks came as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of being "asleep at the wheel" on the issue of reopening schools, adding that there has been a "lack of planning".
Speaking on Sky News, he said: "If you could put up Nightingale hospitals - a good thing to do - you can certainly put up temporary classrooms, you can certainly take over libraries, community centres."
Mr Williamson said the Government is still consulting on how to return all pupils to the classroom in the autumn, but that advice for schools on reopening will be unveiled this week.
He also confirmed on Monday that families could be fined if they do not send their children back in September.
He told LBC: "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.
"We do have to get back into compulsory education as part of that, obviously fines sit alongside 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."
Some children began returning to school at the beginning of this month - but, ahead of the phased reopening, the Government confirmed that parents who do not feel safe sending their children back to school would not face fines.
The latest Government figures show that around a third (34%) of all Year 6 children attended school on June 18, up from 26% on June 11.
Attendance was around a quarter (26%) in Year 1, up from a fifth the previous week, and 29% in Reception, up from 22% on June 11, the figures show.
Speaking on Monday, Boris Johnson said the fact that more pupils are not back at school yet is a source of "deep frustration" for him.
The Prime Minister told Times Radio that teaching unions and councils should be saying "loud and clear" that schools are safe.
Asked if there will be a detailed plan for a return to school in September this week, Mr Williamson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There will."
He said: "We're going to take the opportunity to spell out exactly as to how we will see a full return for all children back into school before the end of this week.
"As I'm sure you'll understand and appreciate at the moment, we're consulting and talking with different people, whether it's headteachers, whether it's unions, whether it's representative bodies."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called for a "period of grace" before fining parents if they refuse to send their children back to school when they fully reopen.
He said: "We don't think that it is the right approach to fine parents for the non-attendance of children as soon as schools fully reopen in September, and the Government should not expect schools to take this action.
"There will be many frightened and anxious parents out there, and this is very much a case of building confidence that it is safe to return, rather than forcing the issue through the use of fines.
"The Government must show a greater understanding of the realities of the situation, and we would recommend that there is a period of grace while normal patterns resume."
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. These are challenging times but the team at the Yorkshire Evening Post need your support more than ever in the weeks ahead.
While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you. In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you - wherever possible and providing it is safe for you to do so - to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.
Inevitably falling advertising revenues will start to have an impact on local newspapers and the way we continue to work during this period of uncertainty. So the support of our readers has never been more important as we try to make sure that we keep you connected with the city you live in during this time. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. We need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
Our team of trusted reporters are working incredibly hard behind the scenes- from kitchen tables and spare bedrooms - to look at how we can do this and your continued support to the YEP will help to protect its viability in the days and weeks ahead.
For more details on our subscription offers please visit www.localsubsplus.co.uk/YEP, email [email protected] or call us on 0330 4033004