Children: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 20th May 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the proportion of school children living in poverty who fall into the vulnerable category for the purposes of their education policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Our latest guidance on vulnerable children is available here:

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, for the purposes of continued attendance at educational settings, vulnerable children and young people are defined as those who:

  • are assessed as being in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, including children who have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked-after child
  • have an education, health and care (EHC) plan whose needs cannot be met safely in the home environment
  • have been assessed as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities (including children’s social care services), and who are therefore in need of continued education provision. This might include children on the edge of receiving support from children’s social care services, adopted children, or those who are young carers, and others at the provider and local authority discretion

The official statistics on the number of children in poverty is based on the Annual Households Below Average Income Survey. It is not possible to separately identify children defined as ‘vulnerable’ from the survey data.

The department’s analysis of deprivation and low income in education uses free school meal eligibility as an indicator of children living in families that need additional support. Detail on free school meal eligibility is available at:

We do not hold data on the overlap between the numbers of children and young people included in the total of the three categories of vulnerable children and children eligible for free school meals.

Our published ‘characteristics of children in need: 2018 to 2019’ data shows that 54.1% of Children in Need at 31 March 2019 (aged 5-16, excluding those who were looked after at any point during the year unless they were also on a child protection plan) were eligible for free school meals. This data is available in Table 1 of the ‘Children in need outcomes national tables: 2019’ available here:

Our published information on children with Special Educational Needs from the 2019 school census shows that, in January 2019, 32.7% of pupils with EHC plans were eligible for free school meals. This is published here:

Educational providers and local authorities have the discretion to offer support to children and young people who they consider to be vulnerable, where the child or young person does not fall into either of the categories above.

Educational providers and local authorities may therefore choose to offer support to children and young people where their individual circumstances, including the impact of poverty, may suggest that they would benefit from this support and continued provision.

As this is based on ongoing, locally made decisions, we do not hold data on the number of children and young people that have been identified as otherwise vulnerable or the overlap between this cohort and their eligibility for free school meals.

These are rapidly developing circumstances; we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

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