Fact check: What does the guidance on key worker children attendance actually say?

attendance Covid

Changing guidance and interventions from ministers has created confusion over which pupils should be attending school, putting further pressure on headteachers.

After announcing last Monday that schools would remain open to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers until February half term at the earliest, the government has since sought to encourage critical workers to keep their children at home if they can.

The health secretary has stated that families where one parent is a key worker but the other doesn’t work should not send their children to school.


What is the source of the confusion?

The government announced partial closures of schools last Monday, but then waited until Thursday to send out updated guidance for schools, and Friday to update its guidance for parents.

In the intervening period, some schools reported very high attendance rates. According to the NAHT school leaders’ union, some schools have reported attendance rates of up to 70 per cent of their normal levels.

Polling data from Teacher Tapp also shows that attendance, especially in primary schools, is much higher than it was early on in the first lockdown last spring.

Last Wednesday, 20 per cent of primary staff polled said they had between 20 and 30 per cent of their usual body in, while 9 per cent said they had between 30 and 40 per cent in.

When asked the same question on March 23 last year, just 1 per cent of primary staff reported attendance rates of between 20 and 30 per cent, and none reported rates of over 30 per cent.

The issue has also been compounded by guidance from the government stating that pupils who have “difficulty engaging in remote education” may be classed as vulnerable.


What does the guidance for schools say?

Guidance for schools, which was only updated last Thursday, states that schools “should speak to parents and carers to identify who needs to go to school”.

“If it proves necessary, schools can ask for simple evidence that the parent in question is a critical worker, such as their work ID badge or pay slip.”

But, the document also tells schools there is “no limit to numbers of these pupils who may attend and schools should not limit attendance of these groups” (although there are now calls for the government to impose some sort of attendance cap).

However, the guidance also states that parents and carers who are critical workers “should keep their children at home if they can”.


What does the guidance for parents say?

Until Friday, guidance for parents simply stated that children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker “can go to school or college if required”.

However, the government subsequently updated the guidance to state that parents and carers “should keep their children at home if they can”. This has been reported as a U-turn.

Critical workers include those whose who work in health and social care “and in other key sectors”. The government’s list of critical workers now includes more than 40 different roles across eight sectors, and families have been told their children are eligible to attend school even if only one parent is on the list.


Hancock muddies the water amid calls for clarity

Despite the guidance stating that children with at least one parent working in a critical role are eligible to attend school, Matt Hancock muddied the water over the weekend when he pleaded with key workers to keep their children at home if they can.

key worker
Matt Hancock

“For instance, if you’re a key worker and your partner doesn’t work then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school,” he told Sky News.

As well as causing confusion, the muddled message has put school leaders in a tricky position. For instance, nearly half of respondents to an NAHT poll saying they have had to “prioritise places due to an excess of demand”.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “The government must be clear on what it intends schools and families to do. If the national priority is to suppress the virus then it must provide schools with clear guidance so that reasonable levels of attendance can be set.”

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  1. Peter Haynes

    I am a lawyer. I do not have children of school age but a number of my colleagues do and it is plain to me that the KWS schooling system is being subjected to widespread overuse if not abuse. Most lawyers with school age children, it seems to me, are sending their children to school as a matter of course, out of convenience, whilst working at home . In my view, the definition of those who are “essential to the running of the justice system” needs clearer definition. It cannot apply to everybody who works in a lawyer’s office. Alternatively, everybody, key workers included, needs to understand that it is the rule, not guidance, that if you work from home, you do not send your child to school. There seems little point in stopping 2 people from taking a walk together when our schools are at 50-60% capacity. I know my teacher friends feel the same.

    • Sandra bell

      re keyworkers in pandemic
      Yes agree that if you work from home you do not send kids to school.
      Also if the other parent or carer is not a keyworker and lives nearby if separated and can offer childcare and inc homeschooling thrn that should hsp6orn and schools should be aware and confirm same as advised by govt and dfe as clear as possibke to avoid ambiguity snd manipulation. Taking responsibility for welfare of young children and protecting their rights thoroughly .

  2. Its a serious pandemic and transmission must be reduced responsibly by everyone. Schools should not be overburdened. Children must be safe and not put unknowing in position to transmit the virus.Nhs must be protected to save lives. All keyworker parents either living together or separated living nearby should sensibly agree to keep their children and homeschool where possible. normally both are not keyworkers. Childrens rights and welfare must be protected by parents and schools and authorities as advised by government with penalties in place especially for a disputing and obstrucive parent deliberately restricting ssfety measures

  3. Michael

    The interpretation of this guidance by our local primary academy has forced my wife, who is a front-line NHS night shift worker, to reduce her shifts as I cannot risk losing my job through the need to supervise and educate our child.

    • My children’s school have done the same. I have produced evidence but they say the school is full and cannot take them. My son is of preschool age 3 and should be in school but they say that nursery is full too. I can not reduce my hours neither can their father. This guidance says there is no limit so why are they doing this.

  4. Government still refuses to say whether they expect schools to partially open to critical workers children and vulnerable learners during half-term. Many LAs and MATs have asked the DfE to make up their mind. Once again they leave school leaders to response to DfE 11th hour announcement. School staff are exhausted. The level of DfE’s incompetency is shocking.

  5. Rachael

    My partner has shared custody of his 7 year old son, his ex wife does have the residency order. We have him school holidays, and every other weekend, my partner is able to work from home, and has begged his ex wife if we could have him rather than him going to keyworkers school, she refused and placed him in keyworker school and someone in his class contacted coved so he had to isolate for 10 days, so we had to forgo our weekend with him, we asked again if we could have him rather than going back to kws, again we got told no. But to be honest it is a worry that he is going to kws and travelling between households , but as we are court ordered we have no other option.