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Widened definition of critical worker causing problems for teachers – Lords Committee says

Tuesday 19 January 2021

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has voiced concerns about the guidance issued alongside the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/8).

The instrument, which implemented the current lockdown in England by making all areas subject to Tier 4 from 6 January 2021, also amended the Tier 4 provisions by limiting childcare and supervised activities to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.

However, the definition of critical worker is included in guidance rather than in the legislation, demonstrating once more poor practice identified previously by the Committee when highlighting issues caused by blurring the lines between legislation and guidance.

In its weekly report the Committee echoed news reports expressing concern from teachers that the widened definition of “critical worker” has resulted in some schools’ attendance rate exceeding 50%. The Committee took the view that this increased attendance rate not only makes limiting the spread of infection more difficult, it also causes difficulties for teachers grappling with teaching in person and delivering online lessons at the same time.

In conclusion, the Committee recommends the House ask for the definition to be reviewed urgently and included in regulations so that it can be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.

Commenting, Baroness Watkins of Tavistock, Committee member, said:

“We echo concerns in recent news reports which highlight the pressure teachers are under to effectively support both children at school as well as those attending online. This is due to higher numbers of children at school than in previous lockdowns because the definition of critical worker has been expanded.

“We consider it necessary to urgently re-examine this issue to reduce the pressures on teachers and ensure quality teaching for all children, both those at school and those attending online.

“We ask the House for the definition to be reviewed urgently and included in regulations so that it can be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.”

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