Higher Education staff designated ‘critical workers’ – Updated Wed 13 Jan


January 13th, 2021

Updated 13 January 2021

In accordance with Government guidelines and in response to the national lockdown announced on Monday 4 January, the Department for Education has today written to universities with further clarification on the staff who may be considered ‘critical workers’ who may therefore continue to send their children to school during this period.

The Department for Education confirms that “higher education staff who are required to deliver or to support delivery of teaching or research and the provision of appropriate university facilities are considered critical workers for the purposes of access to education. Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required, but parents and carers should keep their children at home if they can. The Government’s position remains that everyone who can work from home should do so.”

If you have young children who have yet to return to school or other caring responsibilities, please speak with your line manager to discuss your working arrangements. We understand how challenging this can be and, as on previous occasions last year, we will do our very best to support you in this situation.

Categories of ‘Critical Workers’ in Higher Education

The Department for Education also confirms that staff deemed critical to the continuing operation of the institution should be agreed on a case-by-case basis, with employers and staff expected to show understanding and offer flexibility when making these decisions. Roles that may be prioritised for accessing school places, would usually fall into the following broad categories:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, as well as staff critical to the safety and security of the university estate and other business critical operations.
  • healthcare and initial teacher training (ITT) students on placement who may have encountered difficulties in finding a place for their children at schools, where universities or the providers of the placements choose to designate such students as critical workers within health and social care for these purposes.

Evidence of Critical Worker Status

Staff can ask their Head of School/Department (or nominee) for a letter to confirm their ‘critical worker’ status, which can be used to either:

  • provide evidence that it is necessary to travel freely to and from work where work cannot be undertaken at home and/or
  • confirm their status as critical workers to primary/secondary schools to enable their child/children to attend school in person

Staff should make a request for a letter to be provided by their Head of School/Department who will issue this directly to staff and provide a copy to the Human Resources Department.

Heads of School/Department may also be asked directly from primary/secondary schools to confirm colleagues’ critical worker status, in which case the Head of School/ Department should provide a copy of the letter where requested to do so.

Employees travelling to campus where it is necessary to do so should take their letter with them on every occasion as they may be asked to provide this evidence by the police to travel to and from work.

Where there are waiting lists in schools for critical worker places, staff should discuss their arrangements with their relevant line manager.

If members of staff can work from home, but require flexibility in their working hours to do so, this should be discussed and agreed with their line manager. It is anticipated that this will be possible in the majority of cases.

You can find some helpful links below:

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