NORTH-EAST parents worried about Covid as the new, infectious strain spreads across the country could face fines for keeping children off school, despite school closures in other Tier 4 areas.

Many schools themselves, however, have decided not to reopen after unions representing teachers and support staff told members that it is not safe for primary schools to reopen as planned across England from today.

Schools in Tier 4 London and some surrounding areas have been told to not to open in efforts to curb the new sterain of Covid.

In contrast, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said one of the things he looks back on with the greatest misgivings about the first wave of the pandemic is closing primary schools.

He insisted schools were safe, and added: “It’s very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it’s so important for young people to get an education.

“That’s why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.

“I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small.”

Some primary schools in County Durham and on Teesside confirmed they will remain closed, while Durham County Council said it was leaving decisions to individual schools “given the confusion over Government communication and guidance”.

Schools remain open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

One parent, whose three children go to the same primary school in Washington, Tyne and Wear, was told it was "probably unlikely" their children's absences would result in a fine "at this time" despite the school following attendance procedures.

The Northern Echo asked the region's councils whether they will be enforcing rules around fining parents for children who miss school, here's what they said:


A spokesperson said: "The council will support individual schools and headteachers to make the right decisions for their students."

When asked if the council will be enforcing truancy fines for parents not sending children back to school this week, the spokesperson added: "That is a matter for individual schools."


Richard Crane, Durham County Council’s head of education and skills, said fines aer a "last result".

He said: “We appreciate that this is a difficult time both for schools and parents. We are supporting our schools but are also appreciative of the issues many parents are facing.

“Issuing fines is always a very last resort and we always support and encourage schools in working with parents to seek alternative solutions to any issues around non-attendance.”


Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council is also leaving it up to the schools, who may feel they cannot open due to staff shortages or following risk assessments. 

Lisa Evans, cabinet member for children and young people, explained decisions on whether to authorise term-time absences are made by head teachers, not the council.

Where the absence is unauthorised, the head teacher refers it to the council for a Fixed Penalty Notice to be issued.

Ms Evans said: “All schools across Stockton-on-Tees are following national guidance and have completed a Cvoid-19 specific risk assessment taking into account factors including local infection rates, availability of staff and the school’s physical layout.

"Schools are continually reviewing their risk assessments, and it is possible some may feel that they are unable to open due to staff shortages. 

"We would advise parents and carers to check your school’s website and social media feeds for the latest information and any updates relating to closures.

“As a council we want all of the borough’s children and young people to fulfil their potential and we work closely with our schools, parents and carers to encourage good attendance because there is a proven link between regular attendance at school and pupils’ achievement.

"We will continue to support all of our schools to address any decisions they need to make for the safety and well-being of their staff and pupils and we acknowledge the very difficult position that they have been placed in.”


Meanwhile, Gateshead Council is concerned about the safety in schools following the decision to close primary schools in Tier 4 elsewhere in the country and "fully supports" schools who move to online teaching.

Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, said: "In light of the Government's decision to keep primary schools in London and parts of the south east closed, we are concerned about the safety of the schools in Gateshead.

"Obviously we are now also in Tier 4, figures in the borough, along with the rest of the region, have risen significantly (Gateshead is up from 107 cases per 100,000 on 14 December to 397 per 100,000 of the population as of 1 January), and along with the impact of the new variant, the safety of our residents is paramount.

"Our schools have been amazing throughout the pandemic, showing incredible resilience and all of our school staff have done everything they can to protect our young people and their families.

"The national position may change once again, however, if it does not and any Gateshead primary school feels unable to open, then we, as a council, will fully support their decision to move to online learning.

"Schools where possible will remain open to support vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.

"We understand that this is a very difficult time for our parents, carers and school staff as well as all of our young people, but if we all work together we can help to reduce the infection rates in Gateshead.

"We would ask that you check your individual school's website for the latest information and any updates relating to closures."


A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said: “Current government guidance is clear that children who are self-isolating at home because they have tested positive; or are a close contact of a positive case; or their parents are isolating and are unable to arrange for their child to be taken to school; or at home as part of a government phased return to education (such as is the case this week with secondary-aged children) are recorded appropriately on the school’s attendance register as being ‘present’.

“If parents and carers chose to keep their children away from school when the government has said it is safe for them to be in school, this absence would be recorded as an unauthorised absence.

"Schools and local authority staff will in the first instance work closely with such families to allay any fears and anxieties so that children can attend school as planned.”

The guidance is applicable to all types of schools, including academies.

  • The Northern Echo also asked Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough councils whether they would enforce rules around fines.