Who is a key worker and what children are classed as vulnerable in UK school closures?

24 March 2020, 11:11

Hundreds of thousands of children will be off school
Hundreds of thousands of children will be off school. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Coronavirus in the UK has officially caused school closures for everyone except pupils of key workers and vulnerable children - so who are they? And what is classed as a key worker?

The coronavirus pandemic in the UK has officially seen Boris Johnson and the government decide to close all schools until further notice in a bid to help prevent further spread.

However, schools will remain open for pupils who are children of key workers or if they are classed are vulnerable - so what does that mean? Who are key workers? And what makes you a vulnerable child?

Read more: Coronavirus - Who should self-isolate and for how long?

The Government's official key worker list was released in the early hours of Friday morning.

Read more: Coronavirus symptoms - What are they and what is the risk of Covid-19 in the UK?

Here's what we know so far about key workers, vulnerable children and school closures:

Who is a key worker?

The Government published a list of "key workers" in the early hours of Friday whose children will continue to be cared for at school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Health and social care

Frontline health and social care staff such as doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, as well as support and specialist staff in the health and social care sector. In addition it includes those working in supply chains including producers and distributors of medicines and personal protective equipment.

Education and childcare

Nursery, teaching staff and social workers.

Key public services

Those required to run the justice system, religious staff, as well as those responsible for managing the deceased, and journalists providing public service broadcasting.

Local and national government

Administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response or delivering essential public services, including payment of benefits.

Food and other necessary goods

Those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food.

Public safety and national security

Police, support staff, Ministry of Defence civilian staff and armed forces personnel, fire and rescue staff, and those responsible for border security, prisons and probation.


Those who will keep air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response.

Utilities, communication and financial services

Staff required to keep oil, gas, electricity, water and sewerage operations running. Staff in the civil nuclear, chemical and telecommunications sectors. Those in postal services and those working to provide essential financial services.

Read more: How long does Covid-19 live on surfaces? Is post from China safe?

Who are vulnerable children?

Children who have a social worker or those with special education needs or an educational health and care plan (EHCP) are considered to be vulnerable children.

Children from outside those two groups will have to remain at home with appropriate care.

What has Boris Johnson and the Government said about school closures?

The Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced to Parliament that English schools would close to all pupils but those of key workers until further notice.

Speaking to LBC Mr Williamson said he could not say when schools might reopen.

The Prime Minister urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.

English schools will shut their gates on Friday until further notice, as will nurseries, colleges and childminders.

GCSEs and A-levels in both England and Wales will be cancelled - although the Prime Minister said there are plans for students to receive qualifications.

In Scotland and Wales, all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday. A decision on whether exams will sit in Scotland has not yet been taken.

Schools in Northern Ireland will shut and it is expected pupils will not sit summer exams.

What happens to pupils who get free school meals?

Children who are eligible for free school dinners will be given vouchers or meals, the Government has said.

New guidance says schools will have the flexibility to offer meals or shop vouchers to youngsters who are entitled to free school meals, but are not at school due to closures or self-isolation.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "No child who would ordinarily receive a free school meal should go without this while their school is closed or while they are having to self-isolate at home.

"By giving headteachers flexibility on how they can get meals or shop vouchers to these children, they can make the most appropriate decisions for families in their communities and provide immediate reassurance that this important support will continue."