Who is a key worker?

Who are the key workers whose children will still be able to access schools during the coronavirus outbreak?

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Schools in England are closed until at least early March except for key workers’ children and vulnerable children. In contrast to last March’s lockdown, early years care and special schools are currently allowed to remain open and informal childcare bubbles for households with children under 14 and extended bubbles [for instance, a single parent family with another family] are allowed. Nevertheless, the Government guidance suggests that families should social distance for people over 70 and the clinically vulnerable.

The Government has defined vulnerable children as 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.

So who is a key worker? The Government’s key worker list lists those whose work is critical to the coronavirus and EU transition response. Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required, although local authorities are trying to keep numbers down for safety reasons and may ask families where one parent is at home to keep their children off school. The Government also says that “parents and carers should keep their children at home if they can”:

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.

Education and childcare

Including childcare and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals.

Public service

Including 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 public service journalists and broadcasters.

Local and national government

This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the coronavirus response and the delivery of and response to EU transition and essential public services, such as the payment of benefits and the certification or checking of goods for import and export (including animal products, animals, plants and food), including in government agencies and arms length bodies.

Food and other necessary goods

Including 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 coronavirus outbreak and EU transition), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff and those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.


Including those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response and EU transition, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

Utilities, communication and financial services

Including staff needed for essential financial services provision, the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies, 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. The Department for Education says schools can ask for proof of employment to check people are key workers.

If a key worker’s school is closed they should ring their local education authority. 

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