Parents in England who do not send their children back to school in September will face fines, says the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
“Unless there’s a good reason for absence… we’d be imposing fines on families,” he said.
But head teachers said fining parents was not the “right approach” at first.
“There will be many frightened and anxious parents out there,” said Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union.
Head teachers, who decide whether to apply fines, are more likely to want to build up parents’ trust in a safe return, said Mr Barton.
Mr Williamson, speaking on LBC, said penalty fines for non-attendance would be part of school being compulsory again next term, unless there were “good reasons” such as a local spike in infections.
“We do have to get back into compulsory education and obviously fines sit alongside as part of that,” said England’s education secretary.
During the return to school for some classes during the lockdown, attendance has been voluntary and the system of fining parents has been suspended.
Under this voluntary arrangement, in primary school only about a third of Year 6 pupils are attending and a quarter of pupils in Year 1.
But all pupils are expected to go back to school full-time in September – and the fines for unauthorised absence will also be applied.
The decisions about fines made by head teachers are referred to local authorities, who can issue a fixed penalty notice of £60, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days.
Head teachers rejected the idea of an immediate issuing of fines, suggesting there should be a “period of grace” to build up trust over safety at the start of term.
“This is very much a case of building confidence that it is safe to return, rather than forcing the issue through the use of fines,” said Mr Barton.