Last reviewed 6 April 2020

When it was announced that schools were to close (see England schools to shut until further notice), there was a rider to the effect that the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children would still be able to attend on Monday 23 March.

What was not totally clear was which workers would be classed as essential to the fight against the coronavirus.

The Department for Education (DfE) has now clarified matters, publishing definitive guidance at

Key workers

Even in this category, the advice is clear: every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

However, the Government has repeated its warning that parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.

Children should observe the same social distancing principles as adults, the DfE notes.

As to the parents whose children who will be prioritised for education provision, they are confirmed as the following categories:

  • Health and social care: including but not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers. Also included are those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Education and childcare: including nursery and teaching staff, social workers and “those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach”.

  • Local and 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 necessary goods: 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).

  • Public safety and national security: includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel, fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security and prison and probation staff.

  • Transport: including those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

  • Utilities, communication and financial services: 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 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.

  • Key public services: including 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.

Vulnerable children

These 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.

“We know that schools will also want to support other children facing social difficulties,” the DfE said, “and we will support head teachers to do so.”

What happens next?

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.

If their school is closed then they should contact their local authority, who will seek to redirect them to a local school in their area that their child, or children, can attend.