Confusion over Boris Johnson’s promise that schools will stay open for children of ‘key workers’

Boris Johnson’s pledge to give all children of key workers a school place during the coronavirus crisis descended into chaos and confusion today as parents helping to keep the country running were rejected from the emergency scheme.

The children of any parent who works for the NHS and crucial roles such as supermarket delivery drivers have been promised school places throughout Britain’s coronavirus lockdown.

A final list of who will be classified as a key worker will be published today as millions of parents face six months with their children at home while desperately trying to juggle their jobs. 

All schools in England will close on Friday along with those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in the UK.

Schools and nurseries across the UK are today taking a roll call of all people who believe they need a place for their child or children while they keep working over the coming months. 

But headteachers are using their school social media accounts to warn parents that couple must both be key workers to be eligible. If not one will be expected to stay at home with the children, probably until September at the earliest.  Single parents who work in the NHS or for the police, for example, will get a place. 

One social worker parent tried to register their child for an emergency school place in south-west London today only to be refused because their partner does not have a public sector job. 

She said: ‘Children’s parents at our school are being told only the children with two key workers parents can send their children in – it’s absolutely outrageous.

Teenage boys walk to a bus stop in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, as all schools close tomorrow for months but a promise to keep the children of key workers in classrooms throughout the crisis descended into chaos today

St Mary's Catholic School in Harborne, Birmingham, has warned its parents that couples must both be key workers to be eligible

St Mary’s Catholic School in Harborne, Birmingham, has warned its parents that couples must both be key workers to be eligible

Highfield St. Matthew's C.E. Primary School in Wigan has given the same message to their parents

Highfield St. Matthew’s C.E. Primary School in Wigan has given the same message to their parents

‘Half of them are part time or shift workers therefore the full time earning parent then needs to be at home with their children so the key workers can go out to work and save lives. Are those non-key working parents businesses going to support them to be at home with full time pay to keep them afloat – I doubt it’. 

Who are the key workers whose children could still be sent to school during the coronavirus crisis? 

The Government is yet to confirm who will be classified as a key worker whose children will be given a place in school or nursery during the coronavirus crisis.

But there are the groups likely to be included: 

  • All NHS staff including non-medical staff; 
  • Teachers and nursery staff
  • All police officers, PCSOs and majority of the civilian police staff;
  • Prison officers and most prison staff
  • Probation Service staff 
  • Social workers 
  • Council planners and environmental health staff
  • Most Ministry of Defence staff  
  • Highway Agency road traffic officers
  • Delivery drivers  

St Mary’s Catholic School in Harborne, Birmingham, tweeted: ‘We will be closing to the vast majority of children from Friday. You will be aware that schools have been asked to accommodate those families where BOTH parents/carers are “key workers”. 

‘If only one parent is a key worker, the Government expects the other parent to be responsible for the care of their child/children’.

The same warning has been shared by several other schools across the UK, MailOnline can reveal.     

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said today that any NHS worker from medics to cleaners and administration staff will have a school place for any children to keep the health service running. All teachers and teaching assistants will also be given the same status to ensure they can keep classrooms open. 

But many parents are still waiting to hear if they are going to be given key worker status and growing concerns about how families will cope financially.  

One NHS work parent told MailOnline: ‘I’m terrified about how we will manage it as a family. My partner cannot work while looking after our children at home so we look like we will lose half our monthly income overnight’.

She added: ‘It’s not ideal for anyone, but many high-paid people in the NHS such as consultants, surgeons and senior management already have nannies or stay-at-home partners – but most of us don’t and have no idea how we’ll cope’. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Government will issue guidance on Friday on how pupils unable to sit their GCSEs and A-levels because of the school closures will be awarded their grades.

A list of the key workers whose children can still go to school will also be released later, he said.

Parents, teachers and nursery staff have also claimed that non key workers will be expected to care for their children at home

Parents, teachers and nursery staff have also claimed that non key workers will be expected to care for their children at home

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced school closures across the UK but promised the children of NHS and police workers and supermarket delivery drivers would still be able to attend, as would vulnerable children.

Q&A: No lessons… so now what happens to my children?

By James Tozer

When will schools close? 

Schools in England will close to most pupils tomorrow afternoon, although many are already shut or are only teaching certain year groups due to teacher shortages caused by staff selfisolating. In addition, most boarding schools are already sending pupils home for fear of an outbreak. Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will close by the end of the week if they haven’t already done so. 

Whose children will still be able to attend school? 

Children whose parents are classed as ‘key workers’, who would not otherwise be able to do their jobs, will be able to attend some schools, which will remain open with a skeleton staff. Examples include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers. Children classed as ‘vulnerable’ – such as those who have a social worker – will also be able to attend. 

What happens to those who are not eligible? 

There will be confusion for parents as individual schools work out what they can offer using technology. Many aim to provide online tuition, and ministers say they are working with the BBC to provide learning resources. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned working parents that children should not be looked after by elderly grandparents who are among those most at risk from coronavirus. 

How long will the mass closure go on for? 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said only that schools would be closed ‘until further notice’ – although those catering for key workers will remain open over the Easter break. The Prime Minister said that the aim was to reopen them again ‘as fast as we can’. In reality, any effort to reopen schools is dependent on the success of the campaign against the coronavirus. 

What happens to school meals? 

Children eligible for free meals will receive them at those schools which remain open via a national voucher system. Details of the scheme have yet to be confirmed but ministers say it will be in place ‘as soon as possible’. 

Why has the Government decided to close schools? 

Its medical advisers say that while children themselves are not at special risk, the move will curb the spread of the outbreak by further reducing social contact across society. In addition, high rates of teacher illness and staff self-isolating with a cough or high temperature now means that schools are increasingly unable to continue as normal anyway. 

Why was this decision not made sooner? 

Until today, ministers have resisted mounting pressure to follow other European countries which have already closed schools. They had insisted that shutting them would put unacceptable pressure on the NHS and other public services as parents were forced to take time off work, without significantly curbing the spread of the outbreak. 

What about nurseries, colleges and universities? 

Ministers say they are ‘expecting’ early years providers, sixth form and further education colleges to close, as well as private schools. Many universities have already moved lectures online. 

What does it mean for SATS, GCSEs and A-levels? 

They have been cancelled, with Mr Williamson saying ‘we will not go ahead with assessments or exams’. League tables will not be published this year. 

How will grades be allocated? 

The Prime Minister insisted grades would be allocated ‘fairly’ but full details are yet to be outlined. However grades for GCSEs and A-levels are expected to be based on existing assessment evidence, such as teachers’ grade predictions, with an appeal system in case of disputes. 

What will be the impact on university admissions?

Plans are still being drawn up, but experts predicted the process could be turned into ‘one big unconditional offer’. Last night admissions service Ucas said only that it would be ‘providing further guidance… as soon as possible’. Ucas chiefs said they would be ‘working through the implications’. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Mr Williamson said there will be a ‘proper and fair system’ of appeal for students who are unhappy with the results they are given as GCSEs and A-levels are cancelled.

He said: ‘We will be doing everything we can do to make sure they get their results in August as they will be hoping to, but we can’t predict as to how they are going to unfold.

‘It is absolutely vital for me for those children who have put so much work into all their learning over these years working up to their GCSEs and A-levels to get their results, but also making sure that we have a proper and fair system if they dispute that, if they are not content with it, there is some mechanism for them to have redress.’

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said: ‘If an appropriate way can be found to assess students, perhaps a combination of teacher assessments and assignment works that’s already done, then awards could be granted this summer.

‘This would allow students to get their grades and the university admission process to go ahead this summer.’

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock tables the Emergency Coronavirus Bill setting out measures aimed at slowing the spread and supporting the NHS and workers.

The legislation will be presented as the Army prepares to help out in the crisis and Londoners face the prospect of greater restrictions, with the capital suffering a faster spread of Covid-19.

So far, 104 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK and tens of thousands of people are thought to be infected.

Mr Williamson said the Government stands ready to take the ‘incredibly tough decisions’ needed to slow the spread of the virus.

He said there are currently no plans to shut down bars and restaurants and order people off the streets, but ministers will be guided by the scientific evidence.

Earlier, former prime minister Gordon Brown urged people to come together.

He said: ‘This is a global problem – it’s not just a national problem – it needs global action and not simply national action.

‘We’ve had too much of America first, India first, China first, we have had too much of this populist nationalism.

‘We’re finding that we’re connected whether we like it or not, we’re finding that we depend on each other whether we like it or not, and I think people have got to put aside the differences they have and international co-operation is absolutely vital to this.’

He also urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to do ‘considerably more’ to protect people’s jobs by the weekend.

Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘He says he’ll do more but the package should be out now to avoid redundancies being forced upon companies over the next day or two.

‘I think a lot of company directors will be looking at the moment to how many staff they are going to shed in the next few days, next few weeks.

‘And I think we need to step in now with building the confidence that we can keep people in work or keep people on short-term in work, and have an arrangement with people where they take some holidays but at the same time they are going to have income protection.

‘If families don’t have income protection there’s lots of other consequences: people try to work if they are sick, people put themselves at risk.’

Meanwhile, English schools will shut their gates on Friday until further notice, as will nurseries, colleges and childminders.

GCSEs and A-levels in both England and Wales will be cancelled – although the Prime Minister said there are plans for students to receive qualifications.

In Scotland and Wales, all schools will close by Friday. A decision on whether exams will sit in Scotland has not yet been taken.

Schools in Northern Ireland will also shut and it is expected pupils will not sit summer exams.

Mr Johnson has said measures taken so far are helping slow the spread of the virus, but he has not ruled out tougher measures being enforced down the line.

The PM has also not ruled out stricter controls being imposed on London ahead of the rest of the country.

Transport for London has announced up to 40 Tube stations will be closed on Thursday and a reduced service will run on the rails from Friday.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned Londoners they should not be travelling unless they ‘really, really have to’, but he insisted the network must remain open to aid front-line health workers.

Elsewhere, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he will lead a national broadcast as the Church of England responds to the challenge of becoming a ‘different sort of church’.

In China, no new cases transmitted between people in the country have been reported for the first time since the virus emerged there in late December. But cases have been reported from travellers returning home to China.