85 per cent of Leeds pupils have returned to classrooms as council says it is "not interested" in school absence fines

Around 85 per cent of pupils are back in classrooms across Leeds a week after schools reopened following a third national lockdown.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 6:00 am

Although the figures are below pre-COVID expectations, they are still significantly higher than this time last year.

As news of the pandemic started to grip the nation in the middle of March 2020, school attendances in the city dropped to between 50 and 60 per cent - but in the last week, education chiefs in Leeds say parents and families have put their confidence in schools and reopenings have gone smoothly.

It comes as the Department for Education published school attendance figures for the week dated Monday March 8 to 15.

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Figures show that children and families were keen to return to schools.

Nationally, attendance in state-funded primary schools began at 96 per cent from March 8 to 10, before falling slightly to 95 per cent on March 11 and 12. It was 94 per cent on March 15. Secondary schools were given flexibility to phase the return of pupils between March 8 and 12. As a result, attendance in secondary schools increased steadily from 31 per cent on March 8 to 89 per cent on March 15.

Coun Jonathan Pryor, executive member for Learning, Skills and Employment said: "The planning has been more than the event. Schools planned so well so the reopening went as smoothly as it could which we are very happy about. Attendance is 85 per cent. There is a clear desire for families to get kids back to school.

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"Now people are showing confidence in schools, they know for welfare and education it is good for them to be learning."

Coun Jonathan Pryor.

He said there was leeway for families who were not sending children back to class and rather than the council "dishing out" fines for non-attendance, schools will be working with families on a case by case basis to alleviate potential reasons for non-attendance.

Coun Pryor added: "Some families might still be nervous, they might want to keep kids at home until their parents have been vaccinated - there will be a lot of different reasons for different families, there is no singular reason for it.

"We, as an authority, are not interested in dishing out fines at the moment. We are focusing on children's welfare and if they are not coming to school we would rather schools have that conversation with families to see what the concern is and how they can alleviate it. We will treat things on a case by case basis and bubbles may still collapse over the next few months so teachers and schools are still geared up for remote learning when needed."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "It is fantastic to see the overwhelming majority of children have now returned to the classroom, with all the benefits that face-to-face contact with their teachers and friends is proven to bring.

"I do not underestimate the preparation that has taken place to ensure our children could return safely and continue with their education and I am so grateful to the teachers and school staff who have made the transition so seamless - as well as managing testing and maintaining all the wider protective measures still in place to help keep everyone safe."

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