The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has made self-isolation, household isolation and social distancing the new norm. From 20 March 2020, schools across the UK will close their doors but will remain open to vulnerable children and the children of critical sector workers.

In the early hours of 20 March 2020 the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education jointly published Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision with the detail.

The list has been separated into eight categories:

  1. Health and social care
  2. Education and childcare
  3. Key public services
  4. Local and national government
  5. Food and other necessary goods
  6. Public safety and national security
  7. Transport
  8. Utilities, communication and financial services

In addition to the above guidance the Department for Education also published Guidance: Closure of educational settings: information for parents and carers which importantly adds that children with at least one parent or carer identified as critical workers by the government could send their children to school if required.

Key underlying principles:

  1. If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should remain at home.
  2. Parents should not rely on those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions for childcare.
  3. Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus.
  4. If workers believe that they fall within the key worker category they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of an essential public service.
  5. If the child's school is closed altogether, the key worker should contact their local authority, to be redirected to another local school their child, or children, can attend.

Who are critical workers?

1. Health and social care

This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK's health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.

2. Education and childcare

This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.

3. Key public services

This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.

4. Local and national government

This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering public services such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arms-length bodies.

5. Food and other necessary goods

This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

6. Public safety and national security

This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.

7. Transport

This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

Who are vulnerable children?

In addition to the children of key workers, vulnerable children may also attend school. Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, 'looked after' children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings should continue to care for children wherever possible.