Parents confused over who qualifies as key workers in pandemic crisis

Who is a key worker? Do both parents need to be? Schools and families face confusing battle over who qualifies to keep their children in lessons with 1.7m pupils tipped to turn up at school gates on Monday

  • Families and schools are confused are split on who qualifies as ‘key workers’
  • Headteachers are urging parents to keep children at home as much as possible
  • It comes amid fears that up to 1.7million could flock to schools on Monday
  • The Government has come under fire for its ‘sweeping’ list of critical workers
  • Workers include doctors, nurses, midwives, bankers, clerics, undertakers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, and journalists 
  • Critics say the list – over eight sectors – is too expansive and is ambiguous
  • Fallout comes as the UK lurched towards a national lockdown this week 

Families and schools are split over who qualifies as key workers during the Pandemic Crisis as headteachers urge parents to keep children away from schools. 

The Government has published a sweeping list of key workers who are required to keep crucial public services and sectors of Britain’s economy afloat.

Divided into eight categories, the list includes doctors, nurses, midwives, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, clerics, bankers, undertakers, and journalists. 

Parents who work in one of these critical sectors and cannot keep their child safe at home will be entitled to ‘educational provision’ for their family.

Schoolchildren with their parents leaving Bevois Town Primary School, Southampton

Vulnerable children, such as those with disabilities or on child protection plans, will also attend class, and special schools are trying to remain open. 

Who qualifies as a key worker? Latest Government rules cover EIGHT critical sectors 

The Government published a list of workers in ‘critical sectors’, who can send their children into school if they ‘cannot be safely cared for at home’.

Many schools will be closed, with children redirected to others in their local authority area. However, the categories have led to fears the ‘majority’ of pupils might turn up on Monday – with heads forced to turn away children.

The list of ‘key workers’ includes roles in eight categories:

Health and social care – 

  • Doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers; producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment. 

Education and childcare – 

  • Nursery and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals who must remain active to keep schools running.

Key public services – 

  • Those running of the justice system, religious staff, charity workers, undertakers, journalists and public service broadcasters.

Local/national government –  

  • ‘Only those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services such as the payment of benefits’.

Food and other vital goods – 

  • Those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of key goods like hygienic and veterinary medicines.

National security – 

  • Police and support staff, MoD workers, the armed forces, fire and rescue services, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles.

Transport – 

  • Workers on air, water, road, and rail passenger modes, as well as air, water, road, and rail freight transport modes. 

Utilities, communication and financial services – 

  • Staff needed for financial services like banks and stock markets; workers in the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors, the postal service, sewerage and telecoms.

But the few schools that will stay open are asking if parents should self-identify as key workers, and if they can work from home to look after their children instead. 

There is also huge confusion from people who believe they self-identify as key workers about whether or not the scheme only applies to both parents being ‘critical’ – or for just one parent.

The Department of Education told MailOnline the guidance is worded in such as way so as to help parents make informed decisions on whether or not to go into work and keep children at home, or send them back into school – meaning there are no hard-and-fast rules. 

A spokesperson said that they cannot legislate for every family and situation.  

The Government has come under criticism from concerned headteachers and related unions for including too many sectors in its list, as headteachers fear the system will be open to ‘abuse’.

It comes amid increasing fears that as many as 1.7million children could flock to schools on Monday, while others might remain closed for months.

The potential chaos would lead to so-called ‘dangerous overcrowding’ and derail Boris Johnson’s plan to prevent mass viral infections.    

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urged workers to look after their own children where possible after the Government’s list was published. 

He said: ‘Schools and teachers are on the front line of the fight against coronavirus as they support other critical workers to continue doing vital jobs. 

‘I know my admiration for them is shared by all, so we must ask parents, even those who are critical workers but are able to work from home, to look after their child at home – helping schools to focus on those who need it most.

‘If it is at all possible for children to be at home, they should be.’

However, it is not clear how the system will be policed, and which schools will be entirely closed while others remain open as ‘hubs’ for the local community.

A headteacher of a south London primary said: ‘It’s pretty chaotic. It seems like parents will be able to self-identify as a key worker, so it’s wide open to abuse.’

Teaching unions have urged parents to send their children back to school as the ‘last resort’, fearing the ‘majority of pupils’ could turn up next week.   

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned: ‘The key worker list is extensive and schools will not be able to cope with the number of children who could potentially arrive on Monday morning.

‘It is important that the public understands that this is not business as usual. The provision in school is likely to be more akin to childcare than a normal timetable. Schools are working to an incredibly tight timescale to turn round this provision, and we would ask everybody to show patience and understanding.’ 

Paul Whiteman, of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘The Government has made clear that every child who can be cared for at home should be. 

‘And the advice makes clear that this applies to children of key workers.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urged workers to look after their own children where possible after the Government’s list was published

The Government has published a sweeping list of key workers who are required to keep crucial public services and sectors of Britain’s economy afloat 

Mr Whiteman urged: ‘Taking up a place during this time is the offer of last resort for key workers who have no alternative.’ 

Dr Mary Bousted of the National Education Union added ‘the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread’.

She said ‘this is a very long list’ which could result in some schools having the majority of pupils attending, adding: ‘This will not achieve the goal of slowing the spread of the virus. So it is vitally important that parents follow Government advice to keep their children at home wherever possible.’ 

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