Vulnerable children and kids of key workers can go to school - what you should know

On 4 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation to announce the third national lockdown in nine months – including the closure of schools.

Despite the UK government’s attempts to prioritise education, the PM confirmed homeschooling be reintroduced for the vast majority of students.

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However, there was one caveat. Vulnerable children and those of key workers can continue to attend school - so who does this include? This is what we know.

Who is a vulnerable child?

According to the definition of vulnerable children shared on the UK Government’s website, a vulnerable child must fall into one of these categories:

- The child is assessed as having needs under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, including children and young people who have a child in need plan - this would usually involve a social worker or family support officer, a child protection plan or a child in care or looked-after.

- The child has an education, health and care (EHC) plan and their needs are more safely met in a school setting.

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- A pupil who is considered by local authorities to benefit from school attendance due to receiving support from children’s social care services, adopted children, those at risk of becoming NEET (‘not in employment, education or training’), those living in temporary accommodation, those who are young carers and others at the provider and local authority’s discretion.

- A pupil who has significant barriers to accessing online learning due to lack of device or internet access which cannot be supplied to the home.

- A child identified by their school or local authority as having significant mental health concerns which may be better supported in a classroom environment.

Must my children go to school or nursery if they are classed as vulnerable?

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For children identified as in continued need of social work support, attendance must be continuous unless the household or particular child is shielding or isolating as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For a child with an EHC plan, attendance at school will be determined by a risk assessment and school provision will be administered from the assessors conclusions.

The rules apply for children and young people from anyone under 5 who is eligible for state-led childcare to 18 years and over if deemed necessary by their local authority and individual support network.

For children who do not have access to online tools, the attendance at school will be discussed by the school and parents and if alternative learning styles or arrangements can be met then this will be considered.

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In the case of pupils with mental health issues or other reasons that the school or local authority feel they are better placed to learn in the classroom, this will be discussed and agreed to with the child and their parents.

Who is classed as a key worker?

Children of key workers have also been identified as eligible for school-based learning.

Key workers include:

- Health and social care providers

- Education providers, including teachers; support staff; social workers and any specialist education professionals who must continue to attend schools.

- Key public service providers, including charity providers working throughout the pandemic; those working in the judicial system; undertakers and their staff; religious staff and journalists and broadcasters working to deliver key public messages.

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- local and national government employees, this only includes coronavirus response workers and those supporting the EU transition, workers supporting imports and exports and those assessing and supporting the administration of benefits.

- food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery workers, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods - such as hygienic and veterinary medicines.

- Emergency and defence service providers, including police, ambulance and fire and rescue officer and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel, National Crime Agency staff and those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas

- Transport and Border staff - those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating.

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- Utilities, communication and financial services - bin men, waste management employees, financial services employees in banks etc, tradespersons and post service employees.

A more extensive list can be found on the UK government website.

Do both parents need to be key workers for their children to attend school?

No, if one parent qualifies as one of the aforementioned workers then your child can attend school.

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It should be noted that children attending school will not necessarily receive child-specific tailored schooling - a skeleton school and nursery service will be provided as a means of offering additional support and supervision.

What are the rules around childcare?

If your child does not qualify for classroom learning and therefore must remain at home, childcare is still legally allowed and neither you, nor the childcare provider can be penalised for engaging in informal childcare.

You cannot form more than one childcare bubble. This means a grandparent cannot babysit for more than one other household, regardless of family relations.

Children under the age of 14 can be cared for in the other household which makes up your childcare bubble and overnight stays are allowed.