Ministers must narrow the definition of key worker status, scientists have demanded, after thousands of parents sent their children to school despite the national lockdown.
Newly-released figures show that one in three schools in the UK had more than 20 per cent of pupils in on Wednesday.
In March, during the first lockdown, only 1 in 100 schools registered as high a figure.
Reacting to the news, teachers expressed their concern, while the independent Sage group warned that Covid-19 infections will continue to spread through classrooms where high numbers of children are attending.
The group is calling for the definition of key workers to be narrowed and for increased financial support or furlough to be given to those who cannot work amid a large demand for school places.
The scientists, chaired by former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, warn that underprivileged children are being exposed to a ‘greater risk of infection’ due to the high number of pupils who are eligible to attend class.
Students at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon administer their own Covid tests today. The amount of students in classrooms is far higher than the first lockdown, it has emerged
The warning came after the Government told schools not to limit the number of children of key workers onsite during the national lockdown in England – and it said vulnerable children should be strongly encouraged to attend.
Headteachers have been reporting a high demand for places after students in schools and colleges – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – were told to learn remotely until mid-February.
Vulnerable children can include ‘pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home’ due to a lack of devices or a quiet space to study.
The report from Independent Sage says: ‘First … this undermines the whole point of school closures making the policy less effective and therefore extending the period of closure.
‘Second, it exposes underprivileged children to still greater risk of infection.’
Addressing high demand from key worker parents, it adds: ‘This is in danger of increasing the number in school to a point where the policy becomes less effective and the ability of teachers to deliver remote learning is undermined.’
Independent Sage is calling for the creation of a national education task force involving Government, councils, teachers, parents and students to ‘create a more Covid-secure environment in schools’.
The report also calls for the Government to prioritise immediate provisions of laptops and internet access for every school pupil to ensure remote learning can take place during the tighter restrictions.
The Department for Education (DfE) guidance, released on Thursday, said children with at least one parent or carer who was a critical worker could attend class – even if parents were working from home.
Some councils and schools have been seeking to prioritise places for parents who were both key workers, or who worked in emergency services.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, is calling on the Government to allow ‘reasonable levels of attendance’ to be set by individual schools.
He said: ‘Of course, schools will be trying to offer the maximum number of places to families, but they have been put in an impossible position. They cannot meet the demand created by Government and reduce social mixing in the way the Prime Minister announced.’
Full list of key workers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic
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 distributors of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.
Gavin Williamson said yesterday any NHS worker – from medical to office staff and cleaners – will all be needed at work during the crisis.
Education and childcare
This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active.
Teachers and teaching assistants are certain to required as are nursery workers so children of other key workers can be cared for.
Key public services
This includes those essential to the running of the justice system. This is expected to include judges, barristers and staff who keep the courts running including clerks and security. If jury-led trials continue jurors may be entitled to the same status during their duties.
Religious staff are listed, which includes vicars or equivalent in other religions.
Charities who are vital to supporting communities are also listed. The public sector, especially the NHS and social services, are supported by charities who care for people in the community. These workers are likely to be included.
Those responsible for the management of the deceased, such as undertakers are listed.
Journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting are also key workers because of their work informing the public.
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 arms length bodies.
This is a vague description but this is expected to include council workers such as refuse collectors, planners, environmental health and trading standards staff and workers in frontline roles in departments such as housing and benefits.
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.
This means that farmers and other food producers will be given support. People working for supermarkets, either in stores, in delivery or lorry drivers taking products to stores are likely to be key workers.
Pharmacists and those delivering pharmaceuticals are also expected to be given key worker status.
Public safety and national security
This includes police and support staff, vital to running the police service such as 999 call handlers or those in offices processing criminals or dealing with the Crown Prosecution Service, whose workers could also be classed as key workers. National Crime Agency staff are also listed and workers crucial to national security such as MI5 and MI6 staff are not listed, but will be included.
Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel are listed. There is no more detail, other than saying all workers ‘critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic’. This could cover thousands of MoD roles.
Fire and rescue service employees, including support staff. Mountain rescue staff and other similar roles will likely be included
Those considered crucial to maintaining border security at ports and airports are included, as are prison and probation staff.
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.
Train, Tube and bus drivers will be asked to work to help key workers get to their jobs.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said today it had agreed with rail operators across the country to scale back timetables from Monday as people change their travel habits to help stop coronavirus spreading.
Core services will continue to run to help people attend medical appointments and allow emergency services and NHS staff get to work.
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.
SOURCE: Gov.uk website
On Monday night Boris Johnson warned schools may act as ‘vectors for transmission’ causing the virus to spread between households, when he announced the closures.
Mr Whiteman is calling on the Government to set out how many pupils on-site is ‘too many’ if the virus is to be suppressed.
He said: ‘The Government acknowledges that schools do play a role in the transmission of the virus. Therefore, there comes a point when occupancy levels might be so high that they work against the efforts to bring down infection rates in communities, as is the national aim. ‘
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: ‘If the Government is serious about having more children at school during this lockdown it should reduce bubbles and groups sizes to minimise transmission risks.
‘However, with current staff already fully engaged in providing remote learning to the children at home, reducing bubble sizes will require more staff.’
It comes after the Children’s Commissioner for England warned of ‘clear disparities’ in remote learning.
A Liverpool school yesterday said it had received a ‘large number of complaints’ about mothers and fathers making the attempts for their kids.
Leaders at Our Lady’s Bishop Eton School revealed the alleged issue in a letter which said it received many of the complaints after an online lesson allowed parents at home to see which children were attending class in person.
And MailOnline have learned professions including wine traders have been claiming key worker status to get the classes for their family.
But it came as the Children’s Commissioner for England said there were huge differences in remote learning opportunities being offered by schools.
Anne Longfield said it was ‘not acceptable’ that some children were unable to learn during lockdown and called for those learning remotely to have daily contact with their teachers.
The problem in Liverpool saw the school letter say it had been ‘overwhelmed’ with requests for key worker spaces for the latest national lockdown.
Responding to the complaints, the school said: ‘On the application form the school asked parents for as much information as it was able to and has consulted with the local authority with regards to some of the applications.
‘We can do no more; particularly when parents making such allegations will not provide the school with the information necessary to investigate them further.’
The school said that a ‘persistent thread’ in the complaints made it ‘with regards to families who have a parent at home who is able to provide care, eg: working from home, not employed or on maternity leave.’
It added: ‘Again, we would ask that if there is a parent at home, children are kept safe at home and out of the transmission chain.’
Elsewhere MailOnline has been told class sizes of keyworkers’ children have grown since the last lockdown, with the definition of the exempt category being bent to fit demand.
Meanwhile a gap between offerings from UK schools has been exposed.
Some schools have said they will not do any live sessions at all for younger children – citing safeguarding issues and staffing constraints.
In contrast, others live-stream what is happening in the classroom with the children of keyworkers, including some interaction for youngsters at home.
Others have a structured timetable and live lessons as well as pre-recorded video clips in between.
A number of schools are reporting a higher turnout of eligible pupils on site – including children of critical workers and those classed as vulnerable – than in the March lockdown, prompting concerns about their ability to balance remote education with in-person teaching.
It came as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set out his expectations for schools during the latest lockdown.
He said parents can contact Ofsted if they are unhappy with the offer and have previously raised concerns with their headteacher.
Ms Longfield said: ‘Every child has the right to a good education and it is not acceptable that some children are unable to learn, through no fault of their own, because of a lack of technology, or because their home circumstances prevent them being able to work effectively.
‘There are also clearly disparities between what schools are offering children in terms of remote lessons.
‘I want the Government to commit to ensuring that all children have access to technical equipment and broadband to support remote learning, alongside an urgent review of guidance for schools to ensure make sure that children receive a broad and balanced curriculum, whether at home or at school.
‘As a minimum, those children learning remotely should have daily contact with teachers.
‘We know the negative impact the last long lockdown had on the wellbeing of many children and I want to see a speeding-up of the process of introducing mental health support and counselling in every school.’
Mr Williamson told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the schools watchdog will enforce legal requirements for state schools in England to provide high-quality remote education during the lockdown.
He said schools are expected to provide between three and five hours of teaching a day – and if parents feel their child is not receiving enough learning they should complain to the school first and then ultimately to Ofsted.
The Department for Education said it expects schools to have a digital platform, such as G-Suite or Microsoft Education, and to provide at least some of their remote teaching via video lessons – this can be done by school-led videos or using other providers like Oak National Academy.
Mr Williamson confirmed that children who do not have access to technology are seen as vulnerable and can attend school in person during the national lockdown.
One thread on the Mumsnet website showed that parents are concerned about the disparities in learning.
‘I’m concerned about DD falling behind compared to the keyworker children in her class who are being taught by the teacher,’ one parent wrote.
Another said: ‘There seems to be big disparities in what the offers are.’
One parent said they felt ‘so disheartened’ with the offer from their school, writing: ‘I have a Year 6 who’s had a maths worksheet and two bite-size clips to watch today.
‘It’s the same provision as the last lockdown.
‘I’m so disappointed; I thought it would be better this time round.
‘Then I read on here about other primary age children having live lessons and a more structured timetable and it makes me so disheartened.’
Newly-released figures show that one in three schools in the UK had more than 20 per cent of pupils in on Wednesday. In March, during the first lockdown, only 1 in 100 schools registered as high a figure
Many pupils have to sit at home and access learning and lessons through a laptop or device
Another said: ‘My Year 5 son is getting three 30-45 minute live lessons per day (his teacher working from home, with his children at home) plus the accompanying work, plus reading.’
And one parent said: ‘Unfortunately we are just getting worksheets and links to bite-size.’
MailOnline reported on Tuesday how experts have warned of serious problems developing as England enters its third national lockdown, with one declaring ‘The pandemic has created a mental health ticking time bomb’.
Draconian measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus variant will heavily impact many during the gruelling winter months.
Depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are expected as the restrictions create a sense of terrible Deja Vu.
The blow comes especially hard due to the proximity of New Year, where many had believed the start of 2021 would signal more optimistic fortunes.
Michael Gove said the curbs on freedom would last for months, triggering more gloom among the public.
And children – after being told schools would be safe – face difficult home-learning after the U-turn by Boris Johnson and his government.
During his coronavirus news briefing today, the Prime Minister said approximately £12billion had been spent on NHS mental health care, with around another £19-20million contributed towards mental health charities.
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive at YoungMinds told MailOnline: ‘The pandemic is deepening the crisis in young people’s mental health and there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the impact could be significant and long-term.
‘Young people tell us that they’ve struggled to cope with the changes and loss of coping mechanisms brought on by the pandemic, with many experiencing social isolation, anxiety, and fears around their future.
‘Many lost access to mental health support during the first lockdown, while others chose not to look for help at a time when the NHS was under so much pressure. With the pandemic continuing through the winter and another lockdown confirmed, it’s likely that more young people may struggle to cope.’