When a Member of Parliament asks a question, with one or two exceptions, they are raising genuine issues which require the Government to respond in a meaningful way. After all these questions and answers are all made public and therefore need to be held accountable. That would be true if the question was lacking in credibility, but when the question is very credible, the Government needs to be held to account and in this case Nick Gibb. The question was raised by Lloyd Russell-Moyle and he and Nick Gibb are relatively close neighbours so that makes this even more disturbing in one sense. Perhaps the Schools in Sussex and beyond will also be concerned about this lack of interest by Nick Gibb and his boss Gavin Williamson who should also be held to account for this response, given this question was actually directed at him and it was answered on Tuesday.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of suspending fines for non-attendance of enrolled students in schools where parents or students have medical reasons such as clinically vulnerable or for anxiety reasons until at least 29 March 2021.
Let us be clear that such clinical or anxiety will have been experienced in many settings and the gap between this Monday and the end of the term is only 3 weeks away and many of us are feeling anxious regarding the current situation that was only announced two weeks earlier on 22nd February.
Nick Gibb: School attendance will be mandatory from 8 March 2021 and all the usual rules apply. It is important that children attend school for their education, well-being and long term development. We have asked schools to implement a range of protective measures to ensure they are as safe as possible. We know from growing evidence that many children identified at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak as clinically extremely vulnerable are not at increased risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19 and children are gradually being removed from the shielding patient list as appropriate, following review with a clinician. Pupils who have been confirmed as clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend school while shielding advice applies nationally. Where parents have concerns about their child’s attendance at school, we ask that they discuss their concerns with the school and the protective measures that have been put in place to reduce the risk. Where pupils are not able to attend school, as they are following clinical or public health advice related to COVID-19, the absence will not be penalised.
So that all seems very convoluted and if all of that is taking place, the concept of a mandatory arrangement and usual rules is surely very hard to achieve. Perhaps the suggestion from Lloyd Russell-Moyle that the rules are relaxed until the end of term would be a bit more sensible Nick and Gavin!