Parents are threatening schools with legal action for refusing to allow their children a place on Monday amid a row over which jobs should be included as “key workers”.
Families who are at loggerheads with their child’s school have sent letters from lawyers setting out their legal “entitlement” to a place.
Schools have been ordered to stay open this week only for the most vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.
But there have been “difficult exchanges” between headteachers and parents about whether their children should be able to continue at school on the basis that they are a key worker.
School leaders have said that the list of key workers is “far more extensive” than they expected, and warned that school will be “overwhelmed” if everyone on the list sent their children in.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, previously said that key workers would include NHS staff, police and delivery drivers.
But the full list, published by the Cabinet Office last Thursday night, includes “religious staff” - with no further definition given - those who work in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure as well as those in the oil, gas and electricity sectors. It also includes anyone working in “food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary at Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The list is rather more extensive than we expected. That has led to some difficult exchanges, with parents saying things like, ‘I work in Macdonalds so that is food production’. If your school is near a big hospital, health workers’ children will be your priority.
"Some school leaders have had letters from lawyers – that’s a sign of how the extensive nature of that list has set hair running and led to people having false expectations.”
He added that schools being threatened with legal action is “most definitely not what you need at this time”. “Headteachers are already having to make quite difficult decisions without getting into disputes with parents who think a school place is their entitlement.”
Official guidance says that any child with at least one parent or carer defined as a key worker can go to school.
According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 44 per cent of key workers with children – and almost half (49 per cent) of key workers in the health sector – are either partnered with another key worker, or have no partner at home, meaning they will be reliant on schools for childcare.
Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Headteachers issued a plea to parents last night [SUN] to only send their children to school if they have “no other choice”. He urged parents not to be “reckless” and only to take up the offer of school places as a “last resort”.
Mr Williamson said: “If your work is not critical in the response to Coronavirus then please keep your child at home. This will help to halt the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.
“We will be closely monitoring what is happening in schools and will ensure they get the support they need in the weeks and months ahead.”