The huge demands on Scottish councils this week have been underlined by one local authority, which has had to tell parents and teachers that none of its schools will be open today, as a result of the "huge volume of applications" it has had for key worker status.
All Scottish schools were closed at the end of last week in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus but the Scottish government said that councils would put in place local arrangements so that childcare for essential workers, including frontline NHS staff, could continue to be provided.
However, there are concerns that many parents are stretching the definition of a "key worker" in an effort to secure provision for their children.
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Primary school leaders in England said they had dealt with requests from a cheese maker, a hairdresser and a carpet fitter.
The impact of coronavirus school closures
Now a Scottish council has said that “due to the high number of [key worker] requests requiring to be processed” it will not be opening any of its schools today.
In a statement posted on its website late yesterday, Falkirk Council said it was “working tirelessly” to put in place arrangements for the children of essential workers but it needed more time.
The council said in a tweet last night that it was dealing with a "huge volume of applications" and “NO PUPIL should report to ANY of our places of education on Monday 23 March”.
UPDATE, 5pm: There's been a change. Due to the huge volume of applications, we can't get info out today - so we can't have facilities ready for tomorrow.— Falkirk Council (@falkirkcouncil) March 22, 2020
NO PUPIL should report to ANY of our places of education on Monday 23 March.
Read more 👉 https://t.co/KxTyWCtkx6
However, the council added that “everyone that has applied for a place will be granted a place”.
Perth and Kinross Council, meanwhile, has also said that all of its schools will be closed today but that it is "working very hard" to ensure "children's activity centres" for key workers are up and running by Thursday.
UPDATE 22 March 19:11: all Perth & Kinross Council schools will be closed from 23 March to staff and pupils. Hubs will open on Thursday for children of key workers. See https://t.co/ADyxdlK8HG for more info.— Perth & Kinross Council (@PerthandKinross) March 22, 2020
Addressing the issue of childcare for key workers this morning, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on BBC Radio Scotland that while she understood why “every business in the country wants its workforce to be considered key and critical” schools had been closed because “having large numbers of children gathered together undermines our efforts to slow down the spread of the virus and save lives”.
Please take this seriously. pic.twitter.com/jTQR34g0xh— Susan Quinn (@susanquinn1) March 22, 2020
She told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme: “On the issue of key workers – and this has been obviously highly relevant in the last few days around schools closing and how we care for children of key workers – I understand why every business in the country wants its workforce to be considered key and critical but I come back to the reason that we have closed schools.
“It’s for a health reason because experts say having large numbers of children gathered together undermines our efforts to slow down the spread of the virus and save lives so it stands to reason, therefore, that we can’t have large numbers of children.
“We are prioritising children of frontline health workers, we will do our best to accommodate others beyond that, but my advice to companies is, you are facing horrendous challenges right now, but you cannot see key worker status as being the answer to that. You have to think about how you change the way you work and think about what is essential and what is not.”
A statement from Falkirk Council said: “Arrangements for making provision for children of essential workers in school buildings are currently begin developed. At this time we can confirm that everyone that has applied for a place will be granted a place.
“Unfortunately at this time we are unable to confirm the location, due to the high number of requests requiring to be processed. We will be emailing or texting parents and carers to advise them of the outcome of their application in due course.
“Updated government guidance to local authorities states that if one parent is an essential worker and the other is not, the non-essential worker should normally be expected to provide childcare.
“Please do not send your child to any facility until you have had confirmation from children’s services or the school directly.”