Councils can impose fines of £60 for non-attendance – which doubles if it is not paid within 21 days. According to government figures, the number of children who have returned to school stood at about 1½ million last week. Mr Williamson told LBC: “It is going to be compulsory for children to return back to school unless there’s a very good reason, or a local spike where there have had to be local lockdowns. We do have to get back into compulsory education as part of that, obviously, fines sit alongside that.
“Unless there is a good reason for the absence then we will be looking at the fact that we would be imposing fines on families if they are not sending their children back.”
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, the leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union.
Mr Williamson also indicated that the return to school in the autumn would not rely on social distancing.
“It’s not about 1 metre, it’s not about 2 metres,” he told BBC Breakfast, saying that safety would be based on “reducing the number of transmission points” within schools.
The government’s plans for reopening of schools is due to be published later this week.
Downing Street defended the approach to schools reopening in September.
We want all children back in school for September because that’s the best place for them to learn,” the spokesman said.
In response to the prospect of headteachers refusing to comply with implementing the order, the spokesman said: “As the Education Secretary said it is vital that we get back to compulsory education and it is a long-standing matter of fact that parents can be fined if they fail to send their children to school.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” in terms of planning for children to return and said a dedicated taskforce should have been set up “two to three months ago”.
He told Sky News: “There has been a total lack of planning. From the day the schools were shut down, it was obvious what needed to happen to get them back open again.
“You needed a risk assessment, and you needed to look at the space. I’ve talked to loads of headteachers, and the points they have made to me were obvious and practical and could have been overcome.”
It comes as Boris Johnson promised a multi-year school building programme, to start from September next year.
Some £1billion in fresh money will be put towards 50 projects – some of which will break ground in September 2021.
A further £560m will be made available for school repairs this year.
And £200m will be available for repairs to FE colleges – money which had already been announced in the last Budget.