School/college places for children of critical workers and vulnerable children FAQs

We are reviewing all FAQs on a regular basis – adding new questions as they arise, updating answers to existing questions as information changes, and removing obsolete questions. 

If you have a question which is not covered here, and you are an ASCL member, please email, and we will try to find an answer and share it here. 

These FAQs are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or professional advice. They represent ASCL’s views, but you rely on them at your own risk. For specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances, please contact your employer’s HR service or legal advisers.

The critical worker list includes support staff in educational settings. Schools and colleges need to make sensible decisions about which staff are required on site to maintain a safe environment, and which can carry out their duties at home. 

No. Children with at least one parent or carer who are identified as critical workers by the government may be able to send their children to school/college if required. However, the government has put out a strong message that children are safer being cared for at home during this period if they possibly can be, and that sending them to school/college should be seen as a last resort. 

As well as the government’s specific guidance on dealing with the current situation (all now accessible here), school and college leaders might find it helpful to read this more general government guidance on planning for and dealing with emergencies

The government published new safeguarding guidance for schools and colleges on 27 March. This guidance confirms the necessity for schools and colleges to continue to have regard to the statutory safeguarding guidance in Keeping children safe in education (KCSIE) during this period. It includes additional advice on the following: 

  • safeguarding for schools or colleges operating as hubs or in clusters, and for children moving between schools
  • arrangements for Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs)
  • supporting vulnerable children
  • monitoring attendance 
  • recruitment of staff and volunteers
  • supporting children’s mental health
  • online safety


The full list of critical workers, as defined by the government fo rthis purpose, is included here. It includes people working in key roles (importantly, not all roles) in health and social care; education and childcare (including nursery and teaching staff); key public services; local and national government; food and other necessary goods; public safety and national security; transport; and utilites, communication and financial services. 

The DfE states that ‘vulnerable children’ includes 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.

However, their guidance also makes it clear that they know that schools will also want to support other children facing social difficulties, and that they will support headteachers to do so. 

School and college leaders should therefore use their professional judgement, and their deep knowledge and understanding of their own communities, to offer places to children who they think will be particularly vulnerable if they are not at school for an extended period – even if they are not ‘officially’ classed as vulnerable. 

Leaders should, however, be mindful of the overall aim of keeping children at home as far as possible, with children only being in school if they need to be so in order for their parents to do their critical jobs, or for their own safety. 

The DfE is “working with local authorities to ensure that children can attend the best setting for them and will provide transport arrangements to support them”.

There does not appear to be an agreed figure. School and college leaders who are concerned about the number of people on their site, and their ability to provide a degree of social distancing for those staff and pupils, should discuss this with their local authority in the first instance. 

There is currently no expectation that schools and colleges should do this. 

The government’s guidance on vulnerable children is that they should be in school or college. However, the longer the coronavirus crisis continues, it's important to keep a watching brief on this, and on how we interpret this guidance on the ground. 

For vulnerable children and young people to be kept as safe as possible involves making complex decisions about where they will be safest – is this at school or college, or at home? 

The government has identified five groups of vulnerable pupils:

  • Previously looked after children
  • Children subject to a child protection plan or CIN
  • Children who have a social worker
  • Children with an EHCP
  • Children on the edge of social care involvement or pending allocation of a social worker

In addition, school and college leaders have the flexibility to offer places to children who don't come into these categories, but for whom they have concerns. 

One size does not fit all. For example, if a child is Looked After it doesn't necessarily mean they are at risk at home. The government is asking us to look carefully at these pupils and balance the risks. 

Those with an EHCP should be risk-assessed by their school or college, in consultation with the LA and their parents or carers, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school or college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. 

It is important that we look beyond the label to balance the health risks of coming into school or college against the safeguarding risk of staying at home. This should be done on a case-by-case basis.

As leaders, our decisions come down to safeguarding wellbeing. There are two key steps to take on this:
  1. Asking where this child is currently safest.
  2. Keeping the most vulnerable pupils under review.
On-going risk assessments may well mean that some of our most vulnerable pupils are best served by staying at home.

Government guidance about children supported through social care, with EHC plans or identified as vulnerable by their school or local authority was updated on 17 April to clarify the actions to be taken for each group around the attendance or otherwise at an education setting.

Finally, on 24 April the Secretary of State wrote to all education providers to thank them for their support in caring for the most vulnerable children and young people, and to emphasise the need to ensure that many of these children and young people are supported to attend an education setting where it is in their best interests to do so. 


The government updated its over-arching guidance on actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak on 29 April, and included an answer to this question. The advice is that schools should decide, in consultation with the parents of children who are currently attending school, whether it is necessary for them to open for critical workers’ children and vulnerable children on the bank holiday.


We received confirmation in writing from the DfE on 26 June that schools and colleges will not be required to remain open over the summer holiday for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. They have provided us with the following two Q&As on this issue:   
Q: Are schools open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over the summer holidays?   

  • We are not asking schools to open over the summer holidays and there is not the expectation that schools should open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over this period. Teachers, support staff and school leaders deserve a break, to recharge and rest. 
  • However, we are aware that some school leaders may be considering using their catch-up premium to provide summer school activities for their pupils. Where this is the case, they have the flexibility, discretion and autonomy to decide how they want to do this.  
  • To support schools in planning how to use the catch-up premium, the Education Endowment Foundation has produced a guide which includes advice on summer schools and contains a link to a Teach First toolkit specifically focused on summer schools, for schools that choose to do this.   
Q: What provision will there be for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over summer holidays?   
  • We can confirm that providers offering paid childcare will also be able to operate over the summer holidays, in line with protective measures guidance. Additional funded activities may be available in local areas, such as the Holiday Activities and Food scheme.  
We understand that the DfE intends to include this information in formal guidance shortly. 

On 24 April, the government published guidance for educational settings considering, or already operating, a cluster or hub model. This is intended to inform decision making for those considering introducing a cluster or hub model, and to provide a risk management framework for settings already operating in this way. 

The guidance cautions that moving staff, children and young people, and increasing the number of people in a setting, may increase the risk of spreading the virus and make social distancing more difficult. It also makes it clear that any arrangements should take account of the needs of vulnerable children, and that any model which might make it less likely that vulnerable children attend school or college should be considered particularly carefully. 

The guidance also includes information on specific issues to consider when bringing schools together in this way, including with regards to the workforce, safeguarding, health and safety, SEND, transport and communication.  


At the moment, the guidance to parents says that the government is encouraging local authorities to keep open both residential special schools and residential specialist colleges wherever possible, as well as the majority of day special schools and colleges. They say that this will be achieved, where necessary, by moving staff into these settings to avoid closure.

Special schools, colleges and local authorities are being advised to make case-by-case basis assessments of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils and students on an EHCP. The government recognises that some children will be safer in an education provision, while others will be safer at home. They are trusting leaders and parents to make these decisions and will support them as required.

The government has produced specific guidance for residential educational settings, including special schools. 

They have also published specific risk assessment guidance for settings with children and young people with complex SEND. This addresses some of the concerns raised by school and college leaders about the mixed message from government that children are 'safer at home' alongside an expectation for particularly vulnerable pupils with EHCPs to be at school or college. This new guidance should help local authorities and school and college leaders clarify to together where pupils will be safest.  

Schools and colleges in this position are being asked to liaise with their Local Authority, to try to find places for some children in other schools/colleges. 

Schools and colleges are being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children. These are children who are vulnerable and children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home.

Government guidance on managing school premises which are partially open during the coronavirus outbreak was published on 24 April. This guidance explains what educational settings need to do to make sure children and staff are kept safe during reduced occupancy arrangements. 


Most schools and colleges appear to be reporting fewer pupils taking up places than they anticipated. However, where this is not the case, we would advise leaders to: 

  1. Continue to make it clear that government advice is for all children to stay at home if at all possible, as long as it is safe for them to do so. This is both to delay the spread of the virus and to ensure that schools and colleges can continue to provide places for the children who are most in need of them. 
  2. Check that all parents asking for places are eligible to do so by, for example, asking to see their work ID badge or pay slip. 
  3. Talk to your local authority about whether there is capacity in other local schools or colleges to take some of your pupils. 

No. This would lead to too many children being in school/college. This needs to be limited both for public health reasons and to give schools and colleges the best chance to continue to provide limited provision for those children who most urgently need this. 

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