More than half of parents do not believe 12 to 15-year-olds should receive a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, a survey suggests.
Parents of secondary school pupils are more likely to disagree with the recommendation, with 61% against two jabs for the age group, a poll found.
The report from charity Parentkind also found parents are divided on Covid safety measures – including face masks in school and testing at home.
The survey, of more than 2,000 parents across England in January, suggests the majority do not support the idea of pupils wearing masks in school.
Three in five (60%) parents said they disagree that pupils should wear face coverings in class “for the foreseeable future”.
The findings, shared with the PA news agency, come after pupils returned to class last week following the Christmas break, with new advice for secondary school and college students in England to wear face coverings in classrooms.
The survey suggests 52% of parents disagree with the Government’s recommendation that 12 to 15-year-olds should receive a second Covid-19 jab.
The NHS opened bookings for the age group in England to get their second jab in December – and experts urged parents last week to book vaccinations for youngsters as schools returned.
Parents are also divided on the idea that vulnerable five to 11-year-olds should receive the coronavirus vaccine – as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the survey suggests.
Only around two in five (42%) parents agree that clinically vulnerable five to 11-year-olds, or those in this age group living with clinically vulnerable people, should receive a first dose of vaccine.
The poll also reveals divided opinion among parents on whether twice-weekly Covid testing of children at home should take place to help reduce the risk of transmission, with 52% disagreeing and 45% agreeing.
But a point of unity was reached on the issue of the damaging impact of the pandemic on education, with 79% of parents saying they are concerned about it.
Meanwhile, 70% said they are not satisfied the Government’s current level of support for schools will limit disruption to their child’s education.
Parentkind chief executive John Jolly said the data shows that nearly two years into the pandemic, there is “clearly a long way to go” to persuade parents that their child’s education will not take “a long-term hit”.
He said: “Although measures such as the use of face coverings, vaccinations for children and testing are, perhaps inevitably, polarising, the overall sense we are getting from parents is that a majority want their child’s educational experience to return to some form of normality as quickly as possible.
“Clearly, a challenge to that will come in reconciling the divide in parents’ views of the best way to achieve this, particularly when it comes to the role of protective measures against the spread of Covid.
“However ministers make decisions on updating their guidance, they must keep in mind the impact on parents and on family life that their policies will have.
“Government must ensure that adequate consultation with parents occurs beforehand, with clear messaging provided once decisions are made, so that parents have clarity and can properly prepare their children.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges are following the Government’s guidance on students wearing face coverings in classrooms and communal areas but will not want to do so for any longer than is absolutely necessary, as they can make effective learning more challenging.
“Vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds have been a divisive subject but are one of very few ways we have of controlling the spread of the coronavirus in schools and colleges. Whether or not individual children receive vaccinations is obviously a decision for their parents.
“Schools and colleges continue to do an incredible job in holding education together in the face of such extreme challenges but there are huge questions about the support they have had so far from the Government.
“Almost two years into the global pandemic, there is still little forward planning and a reactive approach that means schools and colleges are constantly being put on the back foot.”
The Department for Education (DfE) has written to school leaders to encourage them to signpost parents to book jabs for children aged 12 or over.
In an email to headteachers on Thursday, the DfE said: “Vaccines remain our best weapon against this virus.
“We have seen uptake increase nationally to 50.6%, however there is substantial variation between regions.
“Therefore, whilst waiting for confirmation of an on-site visit from a SAIS (school age immunisation service) team, we encourage schools to continue signposting parents to book out-of-school vaccinations for their child, if aged 12 or over, through the NHS booking system.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The scientific evidence is clear, vaccines are the best way to protect young people and their friends and family from Omicron.
“Over 50% of 12-15 year olds have now had one dose of the vaccine, helping to keep schools open and young people in face-to-face lessons.”