COVID-19 and school places for critical sector workers: one parent or two?

March 20th, 2020 by Jonathan Auburn

The new Cabinet Office and DfE Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision states that school places should be provided where needed for children of critical sector workers. One issue which has arisen immediately is whether this means school places should be open where one parent is a critical sector worker, or only where both parents are such workers. I have heard reports of schools seeking to limit their intake to only those children for whom both parents are critical sector workers. In one case, this puts at jeopardy the running of a large special school which itself is essential to the delivery of a large part of this new policy, namely the continued education of children with EHC plans.

The new guidance says –

“Schools are … being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children – children … children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home

“Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined below. Many parents working in these sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home. And every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

“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 …”

A proper reading of the new guidance is that school places should be available where a single parent is a critical sector worker. That is because the policy already deals explicitly with the issue that children of critical sector workers should be kept at home where it is possible to do so: e.g. “… and cannot be safely cared for at home …”, and see the middle paragraph quoted above. The policy appears to leave this issue (the decision as to whether children of a critical sector worker can be safely cared for at home) to the judgement of the critical sector worker parent themselves. That is sensible. It would be inappropriate for a school or local authority to make assumptions as to the relationship status or parenting arrangements of a critical sector worker parent, and decisions need to be made quickly and simply. Strong support is needed for critical sector worker parents in this matter.

Jonathan Auburn

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