Schools to stay 'half open' for Key workers children
There is no denying that the Government’s announcement that it was closing schools except for vulnerable children and those whose parents were key workers was a bit of a shock; many schools had been planning for the eventuality that they would have to close completely and were (quite rightly) putting in place contingency plans for online learning. However, none (that we are aware of) were quite ready to remain ‘half open’.
Whilst the Government’s intentions are understandable, its position has led to a wave of uncertainty for local authorities, schools and parents. Whilst it’s not possible to address all of the issues (of which there are many) in one brief article, we have set out our initial observations on what school closures mean for those that are still entitled to attend school.
The Government’s guidance on this has been sketchy – initially we were told that ‘vulnerable children’ meant children with social workers and those with Education, Health and Care Plans (“EHCPs”). This is repeated in the latest guidance for parents. However, the updated guidance for local authorities and schools has extended the meaning to 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.
Much of this is self explanatory, however, the reference to disabled pupils is without further guidance and we would therefore, suggest that this falls in line with the Equality Act 2010 definition. This definition is fairly broad and is likely to encapsulate a number of children that have learning difficulties but don’t necessarily have an EHCP.
Children of Key Workers
Key workers (or ‘critical workers’ as they have now been named) appear to be anyone whose work is “critical to the COVID-19 response” and essentially anyone else that will keep the country running. The list can be found here.
It’s fair to say that the list is relatively far reaching and there is no requirement for both parents to be key workers. The guidance currently suggests that parents should check with their employer whether they fall into one of the relevant categories.
So, if we consider that the definition of ‘vulnerable children’ has been extended and that the definition of key workers is also suitably vague, it seems that in many cases there could be as many as half the pupils in each class that are entitled to attend school. Whilst the Government guidance suggests that children do not have to attend school - indeed, its preference is for all children to stay at home to prevent the spread of Coronavirus - if parents cannot keep their child safe at home then these children “will be prioritised for education provision”.
Regardless of the above and despite the Government’s best intentions, it is clear that it will simply not be possible for all schools to remain open (or, ‘half-open’) given the potential health and safety issues that could arise where there are insufficient staff to look after the children. In such situations schools will have to be resourceful in developing alternative curriculum's and it is likely that we will see creative approaches being undertaken by groups of schools; obviously this will be easier for large multi-academy trusts than for small independent schools.
For children with EHCPs, responsibility for the provision in the EHCP remains with the local authority in which the child lives (in the same way that it always has done) but that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily be able to continue at the school that they have been attending. Again, it’s likely that local authorities will need to think creatively about supporting pupils with this level of need.
GET IN TOUCH
As we set out at the beginning, it is impossible to address all of the issues that COVID-19 has thrown at the education sector in this brief article. if your school needs legal support with any issues arising from COVID-19, please get in touch with Laura Thompson.
All information in this document is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.