Pets at Home has been branded the “worst type of irresponsible” by education leaders after distributing a letter for head teachers that asserted its staff qualified for the coronavirus key workers list. 

The letter stated employees can apply to headteachers for emergency school childcare as they fall “within the list of critical categories” and “their role is necessary for the continuation of essential services”.

However, following concern from some in the education sector the pet supply store has explained staff have been asked to apply for key work status only “if absolutely necessary”. 

Every pupil that goes to school when they could be at home puts lives at risk

Matt Hood, chair of the Bay Leadership Academy, said the letter “appears to be the very worst type of irresponsible”.

“Every pupil that goes to school when they could be at home puts lives at risk”, he said. 

“We’re asking teachers and school leaders to be in harm’s way so that our most vulnerable pupils are safe, and our most important key workers can go to work. 

“We’re not asking teachers to be in harm’s way so that Pets at Home can sell more chew toys for poodles.”

Oak National AcademyLate Thursday evening the government published its long-awaited list of key workers.

Schools are only remaining open to the children of key workers – those considered critical to the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and vulnerable pupils for the foreseeable future. However the advice is still that if these children can remain at home then they should.

When questioned about the Pets at Home letter on BBC radio 5Live this morning, schools minister Nick Gibb warned the company had to “be realistic”. 

He said: “Your job has got to be critical – not just critical in your opinion. It’s got to be critical in our fight against the virus”. 

However a spokesperson for Pets at Home said the letter “was simply intended to help” staff and teachers at their workers’ children’s schools “understand what we believe to be the government guidelines”.

“There is no question that NHS workers and others on the front line are the utmost priority and so we asked colleagues using this letter to also be respectful of the needs of others and the difficult decisions schools are having to take and to only apply for ‘key worker’ status if absolutely necessary.”

Over six million owners rely on us to help them feed and care for their pets

The store has removed pets from its shop floor to avoid people coming in “to simply look at the animals” and has said it will pay all staff their normal pay if they need to self-isolate or are in a high risk group. 

It has also committed a £1 million fund to support staff experiencing financial hardship at this time. 

The spokesperson explained “over six million owners rely on us to help them feed and care for their pets”. 

“In recent days, we have received an unprecedented number of calls from deeply concerned pet owners anxious to understand how they can maintain their pet’s diet and healthcare.

“Whilst supermarkets focus on feeding our people, we and other pet stores and vets can look after the health and welfare of the nation’s pets.”