Schools' responses to Covid-19: Support for vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers

Jenna Julius and David Sims

26 June 2020

This is the third report in a larger research project focusing on schools’ responses to Covid-19.

When the British Government ordered all schools to close to the majority of pupils on 20 March 2020, they were asked to provide on-site education for vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers (such as those working in public health, transport and supplying food). Based on findings from a national survey (during 7-17 May) of over 3,000 teachers in mainstream schools in England, this report focuses on the engagement of vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers in-school; remote provision and welfare support for vulnerable pupils; and the challenges involved in continuing to offer this provision as schools begin to open more fully.

Key Findings

  • During the last week of April, almost half (44 per cent) of senior leaders reported that under ten children attended the school in person for at least one day. With low levels of attendance for in-school provision, senior leaders report that their schools are providing support to vulnerable pupils learning remotely through regular checking in and communication (96 per cent).

  • Three in every five teachers report that vulnerable pupils are less engaged than their classmates. Senior leaders (57 per cent) and teachers (75 per cent) report a lack of pupil engagement in learning as one of their main challenges in supporting vulnerable pupils who are not attending school. Senior leaders in secondary schools were one and a half times more likely to report challenges engaging vulnerable pupils who are not attending school in learning, compared to leaders in primary schools.

  • Three-quarters of senior leaders report that their schools are offering ‘social or welfare’ support to vulnerable pupils, often by working with other agencies. For example, many schools are supporting their pupils by providing food vouchers and parcels (95 per cent) and providing non-education related information (83 per cent) to assist families. Further, two in every five senior leaders report that their staff are making home visits to vulnerable pupils who are not attending school. Among teachers who are conducting home visits, around half (48%) were visiting vulnerable pupils once a week.

  • Despite high levels of collaboration between schools and other agencies, there is scope for agencies to work together more closely to provide social and welfare support for vulnerable children, especially in deprived areas. A quarter of senior leaders identified this as a particular challenge, rising to 30 per cent of leaders in deprived schools.

  • There are more concerns about the welfare of vulnerable pupils in the most deprived schools: 54 per cent of senior leaders in these schools report significant concerns for the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable pupils, relative to 35 per cent of senior leaders in the least deprived schools. Similarly, the share of senior leaders reporting that staff in their school are undertaking home visits ranges from 26 per cent in the most affluent schools to 46 per cent in the most deprived schools.

  • Many vulnerable pupils and children of keyworkers are having similar – and in many cases better supported and supervised – learning provision than children at home. But, in-school activities for vulnerable pupils in the most deprived schools are more likely to be extra-curricular. Over a third (37 per cent) of leaders in the most deprived schools report that their main approach towards in-school provision is on providing extra-curricular activities, compared to 17 per cent in schools with the lowest levels of deprivation.


Schools' responses to Covid-19: Support for vulnerable pupils and the children of keyworkers