Parents in England will have to send their children back to school in September — or face steep fines.
The U.K. education secretary on Thursday outlined the governments plans to reopen schools after the summer, first in the House of Commons and then to the public via a Downing Street press conference.
“I am confident that by adopting this carefully-planned return in September we are going to be in the best possible position to recover and rebuild our education system and ensure that none of our children lose out,” he said at the briefing.
The guidance was released in full on the governments website earlier Thursday. It includes recommendations for schools to stagger start and finishing times, and to divide pupils into “bubbles” of either classes or year groups. Face masks will not be mandatory in schools, though the guidance does indicate that children over 11 should wear a mask or covering if using public transport to get to school.
The Department for Education also makes it clear that attendance will be “mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term,” with school authorities ability to issue fines for absences to be restored after the summer.
However, Labour leader Keir Starmer said pupils should have returned earlier, though he broadly supported the plan.
Starmer told broadcasters: “I want all children back in school as quickly as possible, and certainly by September, and I think thats achievable. I actually think that many more children could be back now if there had been a better plan and better leadership.
“Get everybody around the table, and lets implement a plan that will actually work, because theres a consensus; we want all of our children back in September. That will only happen with leadership,” he said.