Parents are being told to keep their children at home unless “absolutely necessary”, as schools across the UK close to most pupils.
Schools are officially shut because of the coronavirus outbreak, but children who are vulnerable or whose parents are “key workers” can still attend.
Paul Whiteman, head of school leaders’ union the NAHT said school staff have been “much depleted”.
Even the children of key workers should stay away if possible, he said.
“Only leave your child at school if you have no other choice,” said Mr Whiteman.
“My appeal to the families of key workers is: This is not business as usual. Keep your family at home if at all possible.
“Leave the few spaces available for those that truly have no alternative.”
Who are “key workers”?
The full list includes:
- Frontline health workers such as doctors and nurses
- Some teachers and social workers
- Workers in key public services including those essential to the justice system, religious staff and public service journalists
- Local and national government workers deemed crucial to delivering essential public services
- Workers involved in food production processing, distribution, sale and delivery
- Public safety workers including police, armed forces personnel, firefighters and prison staff
- Essential air, water, road and rail transport workers
- Utilities, communication and financial services staff, including postal workers and waste disposal workers
Unions also said there was confusion about which parents were eligible for key worker status.
Dr Mary Boysted, general secretary of the National Education Union said: “Headteachers and teachers are having to deal with numerous demands from parents because the government has wrongly created an expectation that their child can be kept in school.
“Some local authorities and some companies are encouraging their staff to say they are key workers – this is very dangerous and won’t allow us to suppress the spread of this horrible virus.
“The government needs to issue urgent clarification and information to parents that their child should only be at school if there is no alternative.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said schools were only open for the few, not the many.
“If your work is not critical in the response to Coronavirus then please keep your child at home.
“We will be closely monitoring what is happening in schools and will ensure they get the support they need in the weeks and months ahead.”
Friday was the last school day for most children across the UK until further notice.
A-level and GCSE pupils will be graded via teacher assessments after exams, including Highers, were cancelled.