Coronavirus: Schools warn they'll struggle to care for large number of children of key workers

The list of parents deemed key workers in the fight against coronavirus is so extensive that schools may struggle to cope with the volume of children still attending school, leaders have warned.

Frontline NHS and social care staff, people involved in food production and delivery, utility workers, police, transport workers, journalists, teachers and many more have been classed as "essential" in the fight against coronavirus.

The Department of Education said children with at least one parent or carer identified as a critical worker by the government's list could attend school if required, despite schools being shut across the country from Friday afternoon.

“If your work is critical to the Covid-19 response, or you work in one of the critical sectors listed below, and you cannot keep your child safe at home, then your children will be prioritised for education provision," the department said.

Staff needed for "essential financial services provision", such as bank workers, are also included, alongside postal workers, key telecommunications staff, and government workers "essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response."

But school leaders warn smaller staff numbers may be unable to deal with the number of children belonging to parents who may fall into the listed categories.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and Colleage Leaders, urged all parents to keep their children at home "if possible" on Monday morning.

"The key worker list is extensive... schools will endeavour to do their best to provide continuity of learning for all children whether at home or in school, but the provision in school is likely to be more akin to childcare than a normal timetable," he said.

Boris Johnson announced all schools across the UK would close by the end of the week. Credit: PA

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said continuing to send children to school should be a “last resort, for the minority of key workers, who have no alternative”.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said if lots of pupils are still attending school it will not help stop the spread of the virus.

She said the list “could result in some schools having the majority of pupils attending”.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned the extensive list "could result in some schools having the majority of pupils attending."

"Schools can only accommodate a limited number of children and the fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread," she said.

The Department for Education said it expected the majority of educational establishments to stay open where required – but recognised it may be “impossible” for small rural schools.

It said when a school is unable to stay open, it would work with local officials to find an alternative setting for pupils, as well as providing transport arrangements.

Nurseries and colleges are also required to close from Friday afternoon.

  • Boris Johnson announces the closing of schools on Wednesday afternoon

Schools are also awaiting guidance on how pupils will receive exam grades, after it was announced that GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales will be cancelled.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Government would work with schools, colleges and England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, “to ensure children get the qualifications they need”.

School leaders have said they expect that grades will be based on teacher assessment and evidence of internal assessment – such as mock exams – which could then be submitted to the exam boards to check.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know