In depth

Update 6: coronavirus advice note on school closures

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On 18 March 2020 it was announced that all state schools will be closing on Friday until further notice. Private educational establishments and early years settings (including private day nurseries) have also been asked to close by the end of this week. 

Employees who have children of school or nursery age are likely to face significant challenges in attending work over the coming weeks. The Government is urging parents to avoid using older family members to assist with childcare. Parents across the country are likely to be faced with having their children at home, long-term, with no childcare provision available whatsoever.

Will the school closure affect all workers with children?

No. The schools will still be open for children who are vulnerable. These are 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.

Schools will also remain open for children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response in circumstances where the children cannot be safely cared for at home, these workers are defined as 'Key workers'.

Key Workers 

'Key workers’  include all those who carry out work which is critical to the COVID-19 response and those that work within one of the critical sectors listed below.

  • Health and social care -This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.
  •  Education and childcare -This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.
  • Key public services-This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.
  • Local and national government -This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arm’s length bodies.
  • Food and other necessary goods-This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).
  • Public safety and national security-This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.
  • Transport-This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.
  • Utilities, communication and financial services-This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service. They will then need to make contact with their local authority to confirm schooling arrangements.

If an employee cannot attend work, owing to the closure of schools, would an employer need to pay them?

In this ever-evolving situation the law is often playing catch-up. This development is no exception. There is a statutory right for employees to reasonable time off to care for dependents, which is generally unpaid unless an employer has a more generous workplace policy in operation. This would not, however, cover a long term scenario as it is aimed at emergencies. 

There is the alternative option that employees could take parental leave. Unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks is available for all employees to take to care for children under the age of 18 provided they have over one year’s service. 

It will be seen, therefore, that whilst there may be statutory rights to not be in work, this is unpaid.  Ultimately, employees will be obliged, contractually, to work although in the current climate it may assist employers to allow unpaid leave to ease cash flow.

Watch this space

This note is posted ahead of the Chancellor’s package of measures due to be announced on 20 March to help workers and businesses through this difficult period.  There may be details in there which impact on this note. We will continue to post updates as the crisis develops. For more COVID19 updates visit

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