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Case Update

Update: Education Secretary says absences for clinically vulnerable children are allowed

3rd December 2021

Earlier this week, we wrote to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi about the mixed messages he’s been giving schools about whether clinically vulnerable children are allowed to learn from home while Covid-19 rages on. In the letter, we asked him to clarify the guidance, or we would consider bringing Judicial Review proceedings against him. 

The confusion has been caused by two seemingly contradictory updates about school absences. The first, dated 12 October, confirmed that schools can allow Covid-related absences for children who are particularly vulnerable because of a health condition, or who have vulnerable family members. The second, on 23 November, suggested schools should move to a tougher approach and start making “full use of enforcement actions where appropriate” because the height of the pandemic was over. It’s no wonder schools and councils up and down the country are reacting differently when dealing with Covid-related absences – and some are behaving unlawfully. 

Today, Zahawi has replied to our latest letter. He has said everything we hoped to hear, except, crucially, that he will make the situation clear to schools. 

His letter today said: 

“The letter [dated 23 November] in no way purports to address that legal framework or previous guidance issued on this matter, let alone supersede it. Schools continue to be able to grant leaves of absence for pupils, in exceptional circumstances, subject to the normal rules. As confirmed in the recent sector email dated 12 October 2021, schools should consider all applications for leaves of absence on an individual basis, taking into account the specific facts and circumstances and relevant background context behind the request, as well as all applicable legal duties.”

This clarification is a good thing, but it’s pretty unsatisfactory for the Education Secretary to be saying one thing to Good Law Project – when threatened with judicial review – and another thing entirely to schools and councils. 

We think the Education Secretary should clarify this position in a letter to schools, and we are asking him explicitly to do this. If he doesn’t, we’ll consider further proceedings.

Read the full letter from the Education Secretary to Good Law Project here. We encourage parents to show this letter to their child’s school if they are not following these guidelines. 

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This article is part of our Keep children safe case

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government recklessly announced that all children should return to school, even if they had previously been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. We successfully put pressure on the Education Secretary to guarantee support for vulnerable children and families.

See more about this case