Critical workers

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January 2021 of new national restrictions, everyone who can is asked to work from home, and parents are asked to keep their children at home wherever possible. Only children of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people should attend school or college. All other pupils and students will receive remote education. The government issued further guidance, updated on 8 January 2021, on children of critical workers and vulnerable children who can access schools or educational settings. Department for Education (DfE) guidance confirms that higher education staff who are required to deliver or to support delivery of teaching or research and the provision of necessary university facilities are considered critical workers for the purposes of access to education.

The University is in dialogue with Oxfordshire County Council over the issue of ‘critical worker’ places for children in schools during the lockdown. Whilst it is fully appreciated that home-schooling as working parents is causing profound difficulties for some of our staff, we are also advised that our schools in Oxfordshire, and across the country, are really struggling with three times more requests for places than were received during the first lockdown.  There are a range of pressures including: schools needing to prioritise frontline NHS workers, particularly those who work in hospitals; children who are most vulnerable need to be able to come to school during this period; the need to maintain and achieve COVID-safe environments and the availability of teacher resource. It is also essential that we collectively make every effort to protect the NHS and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and the Government's position remains that everyone who can work from home should do so.

School or college places can be requested for children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker, if this is essential.  However, given the profound pressures on schools in Oxfordshire, and more widely across the country, we encourage as many staff as possible to keep their children at home wherever possible and only take up a school place(s) if absolutely necessary.  Finding the right balance may be difficult but the University will do everything it can to support staff and flexible hours and working patterns, and furlough (whether part-time or full-time) are options that can be discussed with those affected.

Those who will find it impossible to carry out their role whilst home-schooling may, of course, continue to apply for a critical worker place at their school.  

Under the newly clarified DfE guidance (dated 12 January 2021), roles that may be prioritised for accessing school places, would usually fall in four broad categories:

  1. Staff or research students responsible for research and other activities to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and for other essential research and supporting activity necessary to meet regulatory, legal, health and safety or other on-going requirements. This would include long-running research which cannot tolerate a break, staff or others looking after living resources (e.g. animals, plants or bacterial cultures) or hazardous materials; or those that are essential for the maintenance of equipment and facilities.
  2. Academic and teaching staff, to deliver face to face teaching to those students that are permitted to receive teaching on campus, or to support those students who are continuing their placements in person and cannot be supported remotely, as well as those developing or delivering resources for remote learning including where these need to be created or updated using facilities only available on the provider’s premises.
  3. Staff responsible for providing services for students who need to remain in student accommodation or in facilities which remain open for students or essential research, including catering staff, cleaners, wardens, mental health support, IT and security staff.
  4. Staff critical to the safety and security of the university estate and other business critical operations.

Two further groups of parents within HE are included in the definition of critical worker within the University:

The DfE has provided a template letter for the University to use to confirm that a member of staff has been deemed critical to the continuing operation of the institution, for the purposes of supporting applications for a school place.   Where a school requests evidence of an applicant’s critical worker status, staff members may request a letter of support from their Heads of Departments and Heads of Administration.   A template letter for this purpose is available from the department’s HR Business Partner. In issuing the letter the department are confirming that the individual has a critical role to support the necessary continuation of essential public services and is therefore considered a critical worker, even if they work from home.

We hope that by all of us making these hard choices we can maintain school places for those parents who work in roles which are absolutely critical for defeating this virus.


Last updated:  15 January 2021