COVID-19: Schools Refusing To Accept Key Worker Children

Advice, All Members, COVID-19

We’ve received numerous calls from members who have been told by schools that, in their opinion, the members are not key workers, or they don’t qualify for school childcare because only one parent is a key worker. It seems that cases are largely being decided by individual schools making arbitrary decisions.

Local Government Policies

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all published separate guidance on who qualifies as key workers. If you’re uncertain whether or not you are classified as a key worker, you should contact your line manager in the first instance. If you experience any difficulty in this area, please contact the Union’s Advice team straight away on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

Here are the links to the official guidance on key workers should you need to refer to them:

England –

Wales –

Scotland –—school-and-elc-closures-guidance-on-critical-childcare-provision-for-key-workers/

Northern Ireland –

Advice To Members

Some members are clearly going to be stuck between their employers and schools when it comes to classification as a ‘key worker’. Here’s our advice if you have been identified as a key worker and your school is refusing to provide care:

1. Members’ primary concern should be providing care for their children if schools won’t accept them on Monday morning.

2. Members need to contact line managers straight away if they’re in this position and explain the circumstances, following up with confirmation in writing of what’s been said. The Advice Team can assist you with this if necessary; please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1).

3. In England, children with at least one parent or carer who is identified as a key worker by the Government can send their children to school if required. Single parents who are key workers will be entitled to a school place. In Wales and Scotland, the position is less clear and to an extent people seem to be being left to make up policy as they go along.

4. It’s important that members also write to the person they’ve spoken to at the school to confirm what they’ve been told. Members should make the point that they do not accept that what they’ve been told is a correct interpretation of Government policy, and ask schools to confirm, in writing, the basis for this position. Again, the Advice Team can assist you with this if necessary; please call us on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1). Where necessary, the Union will involve itself in helping members enforce their rights with schools.

Will you be paid if you have to take time off to care for children?

Some employers have confirmed that they will pay staff full pay if they have to take time off to care for children, but it is currently down to individual employers to decide whether or not they will pay. Some people will be covered by existing contractual arrangements for paid emergency time off to care for children. You should speak to your line manger to confirm whether or not emergency time off to care for children will be paid.

Emergency Leave

At the very least, all employees have the right to emergency leave, although this is unpaid. 

Employees are allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant (including children). Employees are allowed a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the emergency, but there’s no set amount of time as it depends on the situation. Employees must tell the employer as soon as possible how much time they’ll need so it can be agreed.

Your employer might agree to you using annual leave in the first instance to avoid the need to take unpaid leave.

Parental Leave

Eligible employees can take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare. Employment rights (like the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job) are protected during parental leave.

Employees are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is 4 weeks for each child (unless the employer agrees otherwise). We would expect employers to be reasonable in the circumstances.

Employees qualify if all of these apply:

  • they’ve been in the company for more than a year
  • they’re named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate or they have or expect to have parental responsibility
  • they’re not self-employed or a ‘worker’, egg an agency worker or contractor
  • they’re not a foster parent (unless they’ve secured parental responsibility through the courts)
  • the child is under 18

Employees must give 21 days’ notice before their intended start date, although we would expect employers to be flexible in the circumstances.

Any members experiencing problems should contact the Advice Team immediately on 01234 716005 (choose Option 1). Remember, we’re available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


If you’re confused by information from different sources, that is hardly surprising. The Government is clearly doing a good job in very difficult circumstances but announcements are being made ahead of full guidance being provided, leaving news media to interpret what the Government plans. This is causing confusion and members should be weary of assuming that they know what entitlements they may or may not receive.

For example, there is a widespread misconception that workers who self-isolate will necessarily receive 80% of their normal pay under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. This is not what the Government has said and indeed some companies have said staff will have to take unpaid leave or receive Statutory Sick Pay.

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