Coronavirus germs

COVID-19 advice for school staff

Devolution means that guidance may be different across the four UK countries and updates may be announced at different times.

  • UK wide and England-specific updates will be placed on this page.
  • UNISON Cymru/Wales will post updates on its website and Facebook page. The FAQs at the bottom of this page are also applicable to staff in Wales, save for references to academy schools and wider reopening.
  • UNISON Scotland will post updates on its website and Facebook page.
  • UNISON Northern Ireland will post updates on its website.

 

Government plans for September (England)

UNISON has always been clear that we want to see a full return to schools as soon as possible, but the safety of staff, pupils, parents and our communities must come first.

At the beginning of July the government issued its guidance for schools on planning for a full return of pupils in England at the beginning of the autumn term.

Read the government guidance

UNISON believes that the guidance leaves many questions unanswered and will put huge pressure on schools and school leaders to make the decisions that the government has dodged. Test and trace must improve, vulnerable pupils should be a priority, we need more cleaners, guidance on school meals is too weak, teaching assistants mustn’t become substitute teachers, high risk staff need to be safe, and schools will need more funding.

Read our response

Read our detailed briefing for branches

 

Making schools safer for September

UNISON, along with some of the other unions in schools, has produced a comprehensive checklist covering all school settings, including special schools. It will help school staff and reps have discussions with school leaders about their plans for safe reopening, and assist them in completing a thorough school risk assessment.

Read the checklist

(Also available as a Word document)

Here are the top 3 things UNISON members in schools can do now to help secure safer schools for September:

  1. Ask your school for a copy of its risk assessment and for a commitment that it will use the joint union checklist in planning for September.
  2. Ask your school what plans it has for training staff on the measures identified in the risk assessment – some schools are looking at staggering the start to the school year or using the first few days as training days for staff.
  3. Ask your school to confirm its timeline for consulting staff on the risk assessment – including the date(s) on which the risk assessment will be reviewed again immediately prior to reopening to reflect any changes over the summer.

 

What is UNISON doing now?

Over the coming weeks UNISON will:

  • Work with the other unions to try to get the government to make improvements to the guidance and make a ‘plan B’ in the event of more local lockdowns;
  • Push for changes and improvements to the test and trace system to ensure it is fit for purpose;
  • Campaign for additional funding and resources for schools to deal with increased work and the need for more staff;
  • Campaign for additional support for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils.

We’ll keep members updated over this crucial period.

Concerned about your safety right now?

To reopen in the summer term, schools and nurseries should have produced a plan and a risk assessment to ensure the safety of pupils and staff. Government guidance also says that schools must work with unions on their plans.

Therefore please read this advice very carefully. It outlines a series of steps you must take if you have serious specific concerns that returning to work will endanger your health or if your school’s plans are not adequate.

We understand this is an extremely stressful time and UNISON will support you if you believe your health and safety is at serious risk if you go into school.

 

What if I have a question?

A full list of FAQs for school support staff and early years staff is provided below. The FAQs apply to staff in England, and to staff in Wales save for references to academy schools and wider reopening.

If you are concerned that your school is not following the agreements outlined below, or if you have any other issues, please get in touch with your local UNISON branch.

Contact my branch

For more information about your rights at work during this time please visit our dedicated web page.

FAQs

  • Teaching assistants, PPA & cover supervision

    Should teaching assistants/learning support assistants be leading classes where these are limited to 15 children max?

    In primary schools, classes should have no more than 15 pupils per group and should be led by a teacher, supported by a teaching assistant where appropriate.

    The DfE guidance says that if there are any shortages of teachers then teaching assistants can be asked to lead a group, working under the direction of a teacher. However, it goes on to state that such teaching assistants should be willing to do so and suitably experienced.

    UNISON’s position is that suitably experienced teaching assistants should only be asked to lead classes in situations known about in advance, for example where a teacher is working from home due to being in a vulnerable group, and where another teacher is not available. Further, suitably experienced teaching assistants are those whose job description already included this occasional responsibility, usually HLTAs (working at levels 4 and 5 according to the NJC model job profiles), and who are paid at the appropriate grade.

    Where HLTAs are deployed to lead classes, they should be provided with sufficient time, within their contracted hours, in which to plan and prepare, including opportunities to liaise with class teachers. They too should be supported by a teaching assistant. UNISON is clear that HLTAs should not be expected to lead classes on an indefinite basis, although we are also aware of the importance of protecting the integrity of each small class/bubble as much as possible in current circumstances. Any arrangement for an HLTA to lead a class should be reviewed and agreed with the staff member on at least a fortnightly basis.

    What about cover for PPA time?

    Under normal circumstances, schools are required to put additional staff into their timetable to ensure that teaching continues during PPA time. However, given the current circumstances and the importance of keeping bubbles/pods/small classes intact, it is important that additional staff do not enter the classroom. In order that PPA time is maintained, many schools are operating an adjusted timetable, for example closing classrooms to pupils for a day or afternoon a week and using this time for staff to take PPA and for the school to be deep cleaned.

    If you are an HLTA being asked to cover PPA across different bubbles, please urgently contact your UNISON branch.

    What about cover supervision?

    Cover supervision may be needed for a teacher’s short-term absence from the classroom where the absence was not known about in advance (for example to cover short-term sickness). Ideally, so as to protect the integrity of the small class/bubble, the allocated teaching assistant should provide this cover. To undertake cover supervision, TAs should have skills and knowledge of at least level 3 and be paid at the appropriate grade for this level (see the NJC model job profiles). In this situation there is no expectation that active teaching takes place. Rather, pupils should carry out a pre-prepared exercise under supervision. For more information see our factsheet on cover supervision. Schools should consider contingency arrangements for appropriate cover supervision in their planning.

    What should members do if the use of teaching assistants in school is inappropriate?

    Please contact your local UNISON branch to discuss your concerns. As much as UNISON understands the challenging circumstances in which schools are operating, it is not fair to staff or pupils if staff are being deployed inappropriately.

  • Furlough

    What is the Job Retention scheme and what is ‘being furloughed’?

    The legal basis (Treasury Direction) for the scheme was produced on 15 April 2020 and it went live on 20 April 2020 for staff put on furlough with effect from 1 March 2020.  The scheme is due to last until at least 30 June 2020.

    In order for employers to claim wage costs under the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) staff will need to be furloughed. Your employer will need to ask whether you agree to be furloughed – if you do, then your employer should be able to reclaim 80% of your wages from the JRS.  It is for the employer to calculate the amount applied for to HMRC, but note that this will not include ‘discretionary’ elements of pay, so might be proportionally less than what you sometimes receive.

    UNISON has lots more information about being furloughed and the Job Retention Scheme. To claim from the JRS employees will need to be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks.

    What is the government’s advice for how the Job Retention Scheme applies to education employers?

    You can read the government’s guidance of how the scheme applies to educational settings – from early years through to higher education – on the government’s website. The guidance sets out that all education employers need to consider five key criteria in order to decide whether they should apply to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

    It is important to understand that the guidance is subject to what the Treasury Direction says and how employment law applies to existing rights in practice.

    I work for a private catering company in a school. Can they furlough me?

    In short, the answer is ‘yes’.

    The Department for Education has confirmed that contractors should continue to be paid by schools and that in return contractors should continue to pay their staff normally. However, there are limited circumstances in which contractors may, potentially, be able to make a claim under the government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS). For example, where because of the loss of income from meals usually paid for by pupils’ parents (i.e. those not in receipt of free school meals), the contractor is no longer able to cover the total cost of the wage bill.

    If some staff are needed at work to run a reduced service, then you may be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks and then return to work whilst other staff are furloughed.  It is a fundamental part of the JRS that when on furlough the relevant individual does no work for the employer.

    UNISON is calling for all staff who are furloughed to continue to receive 100% of pay and to receive full pension contributions.

    If you are asked by your employer to agree to be furloughed please get in touch with your UNISON branch.

    I work in a school breakfast or after school club. Can I be furloughed?

    You may asked to be furloughed if the service is not currently running, or for any other health, social or economic reason connected to the coronavirus.

    The DfE advice says that schools can claim money from the Job Retention Scheme, ‘to cover the proportion of the pay bill which could be considered to have been paid from private income’ and which has now been lost due to the partial schools closure. For example, the lost private income could be parental fees for school breakfast or after school clubs.

    Employers who apply under the JRS can only use that money received for that purpose (ie putting staff on furlough) and must immediately repay it to HMRC if ‘unwilling or unable’ to do so.

    If you only work for a breakfast or after school club then your employer may ask you to agree to be furloughed. The employer can then apply for the Job Retention Scheme to cover up to 80% of wages, but note that this will not include ‘discretionary’ elements of pay, so might be proportionally less than what you sometimes receive.

    If you have another job in the school for which you are not being furloughed – for example if you are a teaching assistant – then you will probably not be asked to be furloughed from both roles.  Furlough can apply to separate jobs where they are paid separately, even for the same employer.  It is for the employer to decide who is put on furlough and must make sure it avoids unlawful discrimination in who it chooses.

    If some staff are needed at work to run a reduced service then you may be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks and then return to work whilst other staff are furloughed.  You must not work while on furlough.

    UNISON is calling for all staff who are furloughed to continue to receive 100% of pay and to receive full pension contributions.

    If you are asked by your employer to agree to be furloughed please get in touch with your UNISON branch.

    I work in an early years setting. Can I be furloughed?

    Your employer may ask you to agree to be furloughed if you work for an early years employer. This may depend on whether you are needed at work or not, but the decision to furlough can be for any health, social or economic reason related to the current pandemic.

    If you are not required to work then the employer may ask you to agree to be furloughed and the employer may then claim for up to 80% of your wages from the Job Retention Scheme. If some staff are needed at work to run a reduced service then you may be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks and then return to work whilst other staff are furloughed.

    UNISON is calling for all staff who are furloughed to continue to receive 100% of pay and to receive full pension contributions.

    If you are asked by your employer to agree to be furloughed please get in touch with your UNISON branch.

    My employer has asked me to agree to be furloughed. What should I do?

    It is important to understand that an employer cannot put an employee on furlough unless the individual consents.  Due to what the Treasury Direction states (ie the legislative basis for the scheme), the consent must be agreed in writing between the employer and the employee.

    If your employer approaches you about furloughing, please immediately contact your branch; and in the meantime, do not sign anything until you have received advice. UNISON wants to try and secure 100% pay wherever possible for all staff who are furloughed.

    What about term time staff on furlough through the summer holiday? 

    UNISON has updated its legal advice on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

    It includes advice on term time only staff and their right to full pay for any periods that they are on annual leave. This is covered in questions 24 and 36.

  • Early years/nurseries

    Does the schools guidance apply to early years provision?

    On this schools advice page UNISON has produced a range of guidance for staff in schools on their safe re-opening from 1 June, including guidance on completing risk assessments and model letters for staff and UNISON branches. UNISON believes that the same standards on safe re-opening will apply equally to all early years provision and these resources may be useful.

    However, there are some issues that are particularly relevant to members in early years, particularly where they work in the private and voluntary sector.

    UNISON has particular concerns about the re-opening of nurseries because the government acknowledges that it is impossible to impose strict social distancing with young children and staff in nurseries are required to provide intimate care to children.

    We are also concerned that some nurseries lack the expertise and resources to apply the measures required by government to safely re-open.

    What should nurseries do before reopening?

    Nurseries are required to undertake a series of risk assessments and checks before they can safely re-open. The decision will need to be made on an individual employer by employer basis for each individual nursery.

    The government has published guidance for early years settings. It has also published additional planning guidance.

    Nurseries should only re-open if all safety tests are completed. Nurseries will need to put in place a range of measures, including additional cleaning procedures and distancing measures before re-opening.

    Unlike schools, where only a small proportion of pupils will be eligible to return, all children are eligible to return to nurseries. UNISON would strongly advise that any return of children to nursery should be done on a phased basis, so that they can ensure that new measures are working properly before all children return.

    Impact of COVID-19 on young children

    Although the government scientific guidance indicates that young children are affected less than others if they are infected by COVID-19, it is inconclusive whether they have a lower rate of infection or that they are any less contagious than older people. Because younger children are more likely to have only minor symptoms or be asymptomatic, greater awareness and care is required.

    UNISON does not believe that contact with young children should be treated as a lesser risk than contact with older children or adults.

    Risk assessments

    UNISON and other education unions have produced comprehensive guidance on risk assessments on re-opening schools. The template provided can be used equally in early years settings.

    UNISON has produced a model letter that staff and branches can send to nurseries in their area outlining the union’s views on reopening and reminding employers of their duty of care to staff.

    Model letter

    All employers must ensure that there are clear mechanisms for escalating concerns if any of the measures listed in the risk assessment to ensure a safe return to work are not being met.

    What if my employer does not recognise trade unions?

    If you work in a private or voluntary sector nursery that does not recognise UNISON or other trade unions, the employer still has a responsibility to consult staff over the risk assessment.

    The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations (HSCER) 1996 allows any employees not in groups covered by trade union safety representatives to be consulted by their employers on matters affecting their health and safety. The employer can choose to consult staff directly or through elected representatives.

    This means that although there is no mandatory requirement to consult with them on the actual risk assessment, they must consult with on any outcomes from that assessment that may affect them.

    This must take place before employees are requested to return to work.

    Audit of staff and children

    Nurseries are expected to undertake audits of the staff and children that they expect to be able to return when the settings re-open. They will need sufficient staff to abide by EYFS staffing requirements that remain in place.

    These include the need to have a safeguarding lead, a special education needs co-ordinator (SENCO) and sufficient staff with the paediatric first aid qualification.

    If settings are unable to allow all children to safely return, they may be required to cap the number of children.

    Settings are advised to prioritise:

    • Vulnerable children and the children of critical workers
    • 3 and 4 year olds, particularly those transitioning to reception
    • Younger children

    The nursery must provide training on the setting’s policies and procedures on limiting the spread of the virus and on the safe and appropriate use of PPE prior to the nursery re-opening.

    Settings should produce a plan on how they will safely manage the return of children with SEND requirements.

    They should ensure that they have emergency contact details for all staff and children.

    Social distancing in nurseries

    The government advises that social distancing regulations should apply where possible, for example, between staff and among staff and parents.

    The government has acknowledged that it is not reasonable to expect young children to be able to adhere to social distancing guidelines and remain more than two metres apart from staff and other children. The government says that settings must take this into account when re-opening safely to more children.

    UNISON is gravely concerned that nursery staff are being asked to return to work without social distancing in place at a time when infections from COVID-19 are not controlled and there is no tracking and tracing mechanism.

    Even though social distancing regulations are not in place, nursery staff are told that they are not required to routinely use personal protection equipment (PPE).

    Although the government has suggested a range of mitigating measures, we remain unconvinced that nurseries can safely fully re-open with the current rates of infection.

    Vulnerable or shielded staff

    Staff in nursery schools, maintained nurseries and nursery classes in schools, are covered by the NJC guidance that states that vulnerable staff should not be expected to work outside the home. If there is no suitable work for them to do, they should remain at home in receipt of full pay.

    In private and voluntary sector nurseries, not covered by the NJC guidance, employers must adhere as a minimum to the Public Health England (PHE) guidance.

    This states that all staff that are classed as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ should not be expected to work outside their home.

    Staff that are classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ should not be expected to return to work unless strict shielding measures are in place. As the government has acknowledged that social distancing is not possible within an early years setting, these staff should not be expected to be asked to work with young children and should work from home where possible.

    If no alternative work can be found, staff can be asked to undertake work where social distancing can apply.

    These staff can volunteer to undertake work that does not adhere to social distancing guidelines. We would very strongly advise staff not to volunteer to do this, nor would we expect any reasonable employer to ask them to.

    This guidance should also apply to anyone living with someone who is either extremely or clinically vulnerable.

    Nurseries remain eligible to participate in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and vulnerable staff may be considered suitable to remain on furlough.

    Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    The government guidance says that nursery staff should not expect to routinely be using PPE, e.g. aprons, gloves, masks and goggles.

    However, if staff are providing intimate care such as toileting, changing nappies or administering medical procedures, UNISON advice is that PPE should be used. The employer must provide adequate equipment. Staff should not be asked to provide their own equipment or be asked to provide any intimate care if there is not adequate PPE.

    PPE must be used if you are dealing with a child who is displaying the symptoms of COVID 19.

    It has been reported that there is some confusion as to whether private nurseries can join public service schemes to procure PPE. All nurseries must have adequate supplies of PPE before they re-open.

     

    Use of ‘bubbles’ and smaller groups

    The DfE advises that one way to minimise risk the spread of infection is to operate in small groups, or ‘bubbles’ where groups of children only mix with a small number of other children and a single member of staff.

    The DfE recommends that these groups should consist of a maximum of 8 children. For providers of sessional care, the DfE recommends smaller groups.

    The DfE recommends that wherever possible groups should be allocated separate space within a nursery. The EYFS standards on space per child still apply and if they cannot be applied safely the setting should cap the number of children attending.

    The sharing of toys between groups should be reduced and any toys that are shared must be cleaned prior to being used by another group.

    Visitors to the nursery should be kept to a minimum.

    Reports from other countries where they have reopened schools have stated that they have found this difficult to apply and that children do not abide by this separation. It has also proved difficult to enforce where there is high incidence of sickness among staff or there is a significant proportion of part time staff.

    If a nursery is using these systems to minimise risks of spreading the infection, they need to be subject to regular review. The nursery would need to reconsider their opening arrangements if staff and children are clearly mixing between groups.

    Should I hug a child?

    Staff should not be expected to routinely hug children, say on arrival or departure. However, we would not expect staff to deny comfort to a child in distress.

    What happens if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the setting?

    There should be an agreed protocol for dealing with cases where a child or member of staff is displaying the symptoms of COVID-19.

    The DfE recommends that,

    • The child should be separated from other staff and children
    • Staff dealing with the child should be issued with appropriate PPE
    • There should be a deep clean of the setting
    • The child should be tested for COVID 19

    UNISON recommends that if a child or adult displays symptoms a risk assessment will be required to consider whether all staff and children that have been in contact with that person should self-isolate.

    In the event of a positive test, any child or adult who has been in contact with the person must be send home and told to isolate for 14 days.

    In the event of a wider outbreak within a setting, it may be advised that all staff and children should isolate and the setting should be closed.

    The Department for Education has confirmed that under 5s attending a setting are eligible for a test and are encouraged to be tested if they begin to display symptoms.

    Collection and drop off

    Nurseries will need to introduce staggered collection and drop off arrangements to prevent pinch points which will increase contact. They should also ensure that social distancing applies to parents collecting or delivering children to the setting.

    Cleaning and hygiene

    The government guidance advises that strict additional hygiene measure are required in order for nurseries to safely re-open. This will require additional cleaning resources. Staff who are not employed as cleaners should not routinely be asked to undertake cleaning as part of their job.

    If cleaners are required to undertake additional cleaning duties, they must be paid for this additional work.

    Whilst schools are able to reclaim some of the additional costs of cleaning related to the crisis, this is not yet the case for other early years settings. UNISON is calling on the government to offer increased financial support to the sector for the additional costs they will incur to enable them to reopen safely.

    The nursery will need to increase hygiene standards for children attending, including facilities for increased hand washing and foot pedal operated closable bins. Any towels and bedding must be washed daily. Children should be required to wear clean clothes on each day of attendance and should not be allowed to bring in any soft toys or ‘comforters’ from home.

    There must be clear reporting mechanisms if children are not meeting agreed hygiene standards.

    The DFE recommends that all soft toys and soft furnishings are removed from the nursery, along with any hard to clean toys. They also recommend that play dough is not used and that sand pits should be closed.

    Outdoor play

    Nurseries are encouraged to increase the use of outdoor play during this period to reduce the risk of infection. Social distancing is encouraged where practical.

    Can I refuse to return to work if I feel unsafe?

    UNISON believes that our members should never be in a situation where they might endanger themselves and others in the course of doing jobs.

    Putting you in that situation is potentially a breach of health and safety law and may spread coronavirus to people in high-risk groups.

    As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous working environment which cannot reasonably be averted, every employee has the right not to suffer detriment if they leave, or refuse to attend their place of work (or take other appropriate steps) in circumstances where they reasonably believe there is a risk of being exposed to serious and imminent danger (section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

    Although this is very much a right of last resort, the context of a situation will be key on whether refusing to return to work or any other steps are appropriate. This means that an employee cannot automatically refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason.

    If you feel you are being put at risk it is crucial to get advice and discuss the situation with your UNISON representative. Contact your branch and if needed you can seek advice from your regional office or legal team.

    Do the Early Years Foundation Stage Regulations still apply?

    The government has introduced a range of dis-applications to the regulations during the coronavirus crisis.

    Changes to staffing ratios

    In nurseries:

    During the crisis nurseries are only required to, ‘use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least half of all other staff (excluding the manager) hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification. However, meeting this will not be a legal requirement. All other requirements remain.’

    In nursery schools and nursery classes in schools:

    The previous requirement was;

    • There must be at least one member of staff for every 13 children
    • At least one member of staff must be a school teacher as defined by section 122 of the Education Act 2002
    • At least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification

    The new requirement during the crisis is;

    ‘Providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least one member of staff is a school teacher as defined by section 122 of the Education Act 2002.

    In instances where this is not possible, providers should follow the requirements for providers where there is not someone with a suitable level 6 qualification working directly with the children (i.e. there must be at least one member of staff for every eight children, at least one member of staff who holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification and providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least half of other staff hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification).

    Where at least one member of staff is a school teacher, providers should use their “reasonable endeavours” to ensure that at least one other member of staff holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification but meeting this will not be a legal requirement.

    All other requirements remain.’

    This means that if there is not a teacher in the class a 1:8 ratio will apply, not 1:13. Although there is no longer a legal requirement for a teacher to be in the class, this should be the expectation. It is only those staff who suitably competent are qualified that should asked to cover for teacher absence.

    These staff must be suitably paid to cover any teacher absence.

    Other changes to the EYFS include, changes to learning and development regulations, changes to paediatric first aid regulations and removing the requirement to undertake the 2 year-old progress check and the EYSFP assessment for the year 2019/20.

    Routine Ofsted inspections are still suspended, although safeguarding and regulatory inspections continue as normal.

  • Day to day working issues

    Should my school be expecting all support staff to be in?

    Many schools will be arranging rotas and schedules for support staff in order to provide safe care for children who need to attend, while minimising the number of people on site to reduce the potential for spreading the virus. So, schools should not be asking all staff to come in and undertake routine tasks. It would undermine the social distancing measures in place to try and limit the spread of the virus.

    I have been asked to provide cover for other roles, but this work will be very different to my usual role at school. Where does this leave me?

    We know that support staff are absolutely committed to doing their part and UNISON is totally committed to doing all we can to support you, protect your finances and safeguard your health and wellbeing. There may be a need for staff to help with alternative roles, but this should be on a voluntary basis first and with proper support from your employer. If you have any concerns about any changes, please speak to your local branch.

    In addition, for employees covered by the NJC Green Book (which is the vast majority of support staff working in local authority schools and academies), UNISON has negotiated guidance which states employees who agree to undertake a different role and/or working pattern should suffer no financial detriment and should continue to be paid at their usual contracted rate.

    Where employees are temporarily undertaking roles that are paid at a higher rate than their usual contracted rate, they should receive the higher rate of pay for the duration of the assignment.

    My school is in the middle of a redundancy consultation. Should this be put on hold?

    We are in a middle of a global health emergency and school support staff are on the front line with others in the battle to help stop the spread of this virus and help save lives. Absolutely nothing should detract from this effort and UNISON is therefore calling for all redundancies, restructures, TUPE transfers and non-urgent disciplinaries to be put on hold. The battle to save lives must come first.

    My school is due to be transferred to a multi-academy trust. Should this be put on hold?

    We are in a middle of a global health emergency and school support staff are on the front line supporting those battling to save lives. Absolutely nothing should detract from this effort and therefore all redundancies, restructures, TUPE transfers and non-urgent disciplinaries need to be put on hold. The battle to save lives must come first.

    Can I be asked to work at a different school within the local authority?

    We all recognise the need to work together and for flexibility to help get the country through this health crisis. We know that support staff are absolutely committed to doing their part and UNISON is totally committed to doing all it can to support you, protect your finances and safeguard your health and wellbeing.

    In terms of redeployment, this is likely to be in your own school or another school within your local authority. There may be a need for staff to help with alternative roles, but this should be on a voluntary basis first, and with proper support from your employer. If you have any concerns about any changes, please speak to your local branch.

     

  • Pay

    If I have to self-isolate will I still be paid?

    The overwhelming majority of school members, including in academies, are covered by protections under the NJC ‘Green Book’ terms and conditions. The Green Book is negotiated by UNISON and the other support unions and contains the following clause:

    “An employee who is prevented from attending work because of contact with infectious disease shall be entitled to receive normal pay. The period of absence on this account shall not be reckoned against the employee’s entitlements under this scheme”

    This means that if you are employed under Green Book terms and conditions and are required to self-isolate you will continue to receive your normal pay. In addition, this period should not be recorded as sickness absence.

    Even if you’re not covered by Green Book terms and conditions your employer should observe this agreement during this emergency. If you have issues with your employer, please urgently raise them with your UNISON branch.

    I work for a catering or cleaning contractor in the school. What will happen to my pay?

    Private outsourced catering cleaning companies are still being paid by the school, so the contract staff should be fully paid. Also, UNISON believes contractors need to comply with the same procedures as the school in this emergency, otherwise this could undermine attempts to reduce the spread of virus.

    I am an agency staff member. Will I still be paid during this emergency period?

    The school should, at the minimum, pay you to the end date of your assignment. In addition, many schools have already committed to continue full pay for agency staff, in line with directly employed staff, during the entire health emergency. Agency staff will, alongside other school-employed staff, play a vital role and UNISON is arguing that you should be kept on full pay during this period.

  • School holiday and weekend working

    What if I am asked to work during the summer holidays?

    Some schools have indicated that they will be opening during summer holidays in order to provide catch up lessons for students or holiday clubs.

    There will be an ongoing requirement for enhanced cleaning during this period and we have received some reports of schools asking cleaners to work throughout the summer holidays.

    Many staff in schools are on term time only contracts. This means that they are not contracted or paid to work during school closure periods.

    If term time only staff are required to work outside their normal contracted hours, i.e. in the school holidays, then they should be paid for this. This is specified (para 4.5) of the NJC guidance on term time only working, which states, ‘If term time only employees are required to undertake work outside of their contracted hours, they must be appropriately remunerated.’

    However, we do not believe that staff should be forced to work outside their normal contracted hours, particularly if they have caring or holiday commitments of their own. All staff must also have the opportunity to have time off from work for rest and recuperation purposes.

    Staff will normally be paid at their standard hourly rate if they are working on what is a normal working day. However, if staff are required to work on a weekend or a public holiday then we would expect overtime premiums to apply.

    We would expect schools to seek volunteers in the first instance and to consider any booked holiday or caring commitments when arranging rotas.

    If staff are working throughout the holiday, then consideration will need to be given to the annual leave accrued whilst working these additional hours.

    What about term time staff on furlough through the summer holiday? 

    UNISON has updated its legal advice on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

    It includes advice on term time only staff and their right to full pay for any periods that they are on annual leave. This is covered in questions 24 and 36.

    If I have to work on the weekends, or if I work through any school holidays, will I be paid?

    Some schools are open seven days a week, and some opened during what would normally be the Easter holidays in order to provide support for the children of critical workers.

    UNISON is encouraging members to support the national effort to enable critical workers to continue working. However, we do not believe that staff should be forced to work outside their normal contracted hours, particularly if they have caring commitments of their own.

    Many staff in schools are on term time only contracts. This means that they are not contracted or paid to work during school closure periods.

    If term time only staff are required to work outside their normal contracted hours, i.e. in the school holidays, then they should be paid for this. This is specified (para 4.5) of the NJC guidance on term time only working, which states, ‘If term time only employees are required to undertake work outside of their contracted hours, they must be appropriately remunerated.’

    Staff will normally be paid at their standard hourly rate if they are working on what is a normal working day. However, if staff are required to work on a weekend or a public holiday then we would expect overtime premiums to apply. These are normally agreed at local authority level but are typically time and a half for working on a Saturday and double time for Sundays or public holidays.

    In addition, we would also expect overtime premiums to apply if you work over the standard working week in any given working week. The standard week is normally 37 hours per week outside London and 36 hours per week in London. Some authorities have a shorter standard working week. Where staff are being required to work beyond the standard working week they should normally be paid at time and a half for these hours.

    We would expect schools to seek volunteers in the first instance and to consider any booked holiday or caring commitments. If this becomes a regular working pattern, then consideration will need to be given to the annual leave accrued whilst working additional hours.

  • Health and safety

    What MUST your school do to keep you safe?

    Your employer has a legal duty to ensure your health, safety and welfare as far as is reasonably practicable, under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. They are also required by law to carry out a risk assessment to find out what they need to do to keep you safe.

    In the context of COVID-19, working at home would be the best way of minimising risks of contracting or spreading the virus. However, this is not possible for all staff, since schools are open to an increasing number of pupils.

    (England only) The Department for Education and Public Health England have issued guidance for schools that remain open, setting out the following measures schools should follow:

    • Tell children, parents, carers or any visitors, such as suppliers, not to visit the school if they are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).
    • Consider how children arrive and reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport.
    • Ensure class sizes reflect the numbers of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible.
    • Stagger lunch times, break times and the movement of pupils around the school to reduce large groups of children gathering.
    • Discourage parents from gathering at school gates.
    • Make sure anyone who is feeling ill stays at home.
    • Ensure all staff and children wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently, and are encouraged not to touch their face, while using a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and using bins for tissue waste. If children or young people have trouble washing their hands, ensure help is available.
    • Inform parents and communities about the measures being taken and get their help to implement them.
    • Increase cleaning of surfaces in classrooms, including desks and handles, and within toilet blocks and changing rooms, adhering to guidance on cleaning of non-healthcare settings.
    • For children and young people with an EHC plan, work with the local authority as well as with parents to decide how best to continue supporting these children and young people to stay healthy.
    • Schools must have adequate supplies of personal and domestic cleaning products.

    The Department for Education has said that it will issue further detailed guidance on Personal Protective Equipment for settings that require it and UNISON is pushing the government to publish this guidance.

    What else does UNISON recommend your school should be doing to keep you safe?

    • Making available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable gloves, aprons and face masks following a risk assessment and where it’s not possible to implement government guidance on social distancing. The PPE required will depend on the nature of your role, and should be issued where the risks you are exposed to make it necessary. Any staff who require it must be trained in its use. Read UNISON’s PPE guide for more details.
    • Ensuring stocks of soap are checked and replenished before the start of every day.
    • Making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available in classrooms and the lunch hall.
    • Putting in place measures to encourage staff and children to stay 2 metres apart where possible, such as rearranging desks and introducing floor markings.
    • Ensuring adequate supplies of thermometers to monitor the health of children and staff.
    • Staggering staff breaks so that safe distances can be kept in the staff room.
    • Keeping windows and doors open where it is safe to do so.
    • Keeping in touch with their local public health team over health & safety issues.

    What can I do personally to keep myself as safe as possible?

    • If you or someone you live with has an underlying health condition, is pregnant or over 70, you should arrange to work from home. The NJC national unions and Local Government Association employers have issued clear guidance to schools that staff in this position should not be in school during the epidemic. So you should be either working from home, or if that is not possible, be home on full pay for the duration of this emergency. Some employers have agreed CPD plans for staff to undertake at home (see UNISON resources). This can be particularly helpful for staff whose role cannot be done at home. Also, you could temporarily agree to take on other work tasks from home.
    • Do not go into school if you are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 or live with someone who is doing so. Follow the government’s staying at home guidance.
    • Avoid, where possible, physical contact with children. Try to focus on verbal reassurances if a child needs to be comforted.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water after any physical contact with children soap, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser where soap and water is not immediately available.
    • If administering medication or first aid to children, wash your hands before and afterwards and always before moving to another child. Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable masks, gloves and apron if you’re concerned about potential exposure. If not available, urgently raise this with your head teacher and UNISON branch.
    • Try to avoid touching your face and regularly wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
    • Keep 2 metres apart from others wherever possible, in classrooms, in the staff room and generally around the school.
    • Avoid using colleagues’ phones or other work tools and equipment. If it is necessary, always clean the equipment before and afterwards.
    • Speak to your line manager about difficulties maintaining safe practice with any individual children so the situation can be discussed with parents.
    • When you get home, wash your hands and remove shoes straight away. Take work clothes off immediately reaching home and launder them, where possible, before touching any members of your family.

    Can I wear a face-covering in school?

    UNISON’s position is that an employer must provide staff with PPE, including face masks, where a risk assessment demonstrates that they are required to reduce the risk of transmission. Please note that a face mask is different to a face covering. A face mask is a surgical mask or respirator which may be appropriate for staff in some situations, and must be reserved for those who need it. Where supplied by your employer, training on how to use and dispose of face masks should be provided. Schools must also have a supply of face masks and other PPE for use in the event that a pupil or staff member displays symptoms of COVID-19.

    In addition, a growing number of school employers are allowing staff to wear face coverings as an additional level of protection, and the government is making face coverings mandatory in some situations. Some schools have actually provided supplies of face coverings to all staff as part of their plans for wider opening. It’s important, however, that face coverings are not used as a substitute for other crucial risk-reducing measures such as hand washing and social distancing.

    We are aware that some schools are not allowing staff to wear face coverings should they choose to do so, citing government guidance. However, UNISON supports your right to wear a face covering and we would advise you discuss your reasons for doing so with your employer. You should point out the new Health and Safety Executive guidance which includes the following: ‘If people choose to wear face coverings in work you should support them’. It may be that your colleagues share your views. If the situation cannot be resolved, please contact your UNISON branch for support.

    How can the school reduce physical contact between children?

    • Avoid games and activities which lead to physical contact between children.
    • Conduct as much activity as possible outside.
    • Spread children out as far as possible when in the classroom and when eating – ideally 3 metres apart, to allow for movement in and out of seats.
    • Encourage children to walk in single file when moving around the school.
    • Make sure that children are not holding hands or touching each other as much as possible and encourage them to keep 2 metres apart.
    • Encourage children to avoid touching their face.

    What should I do if I have concerns about the health and safety measures being taken at my school?

    Ask to see a copy of your school’s risk assessment and contact your local UNISON branch for urgent assistance.

    What should I do if someone develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) at school? (England only)

    If anyone becomes unwell and you have any concerns their symptoms may be consistent with COVID-19, they should be sent home and advised to follow the staying at home guidance.

    The Department for Education and Public Health England have published the following guidance for this situation:

    “If a child is awaiting collection, they should be moved, if possible and if appropriate, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door. Settings should be mindful of individual children’s needs – for example it would not be appropriate for younger children to be alone without adult supervision. Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation. If it is not possible to isolate them, move them to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people.

    If they need to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should use a separate bathroom if possible. The bathroom should be cleaned and disinfected using standard cleaning products before being used by anyone else.

    If they need clinical advice, they (or their teacher, parent or guardian) should go online to NHS 111 (or call 111 if they don’t have internet access). In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.”

    What if I have an underlying health condition or live with someone who has one of the conditions identified by government requiring strict social isolation? Do I have to come into school?

    If you have an underlying health condition that puts you at greater risk, or one of the conditions identified by the government requiring strict social isolation, you should not be expected to attend the workplace. The same applies to employees who live with and/or have caring responsibilities for people meeting these criteria. All options for working at home should be considered, on full pay.

    However, in some cases employers will have no option other than to accept that some employees will be staying at home on full pay for the duration of this emergency although unable to carry out work from home. This provision has been agreed under NJC Green Book terms, which cover the vast majority of local authority and academy schools, and other employers should do likewise in line with government guidance.

    I am pregnant. Can the school make me come in during the pandemic?

    Staff who are pregnant should not be expected to work in schools during this pandemic, as per government guidance on vulnerable groups. Under NJC Green Book terms and conditions you will be able to work from home on full pay, or if this is not possible then your employer will have to accept that you have to self-isolate at home on full pay. If your partner is pregnant, your school should allow you to work from home on full pay. If you have any issue with your employer, please urgently contact your local branch.

    Our school doesn’t have adequate supplies of hand soap and sanitiser. How can we work safely? What should I do?

    It is incredibly important that pupils and staff have access to soap and warm water or sanitiser to wash your hands as this is a key recommendation to protect ourselves from the virus. The school must provide adequate supplies of soap/sanitiser for all staff and pupils. Ask the employer to increase the supply as a matter of urgency. Stocks of soap should be checked and replenished before the start of every day and children should be supervised in washing their hands, for at least 20 seconds, on arrival at school and regularly throughout the day. Hand sanitiser should be made available in classrooms.

    Who should be cleaning the school given the heightened levels of risk and what provisions should be made for their safety?

    Those employed to clean the school should be provided with the correct equipment. This will include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and appropriate cleaning solutions along with instructions. See our detailed advice.

    Deep cleaning

    Although there is no clear definition of a deep clean it is accepted that a deep clean is more than a standard or regular clean. Only cleaning staff should be asked to carry out a deep clean of a school or particular area within the school. If you are instructed to carry out deep cleaning duties and you are not employed as a cleaner you should make clear to your manager that this is not your role. If your manager continues to insist then contact your local UNISON branch and seek support.

    For cleaning staff, a risk assessment and training should be conducted and appropriate personal protective (PPE) equipment provided by the employer before any deep cleaning is carried out. Instructions should also be given on the use of any specialist equipment such as steamers for sanitising equipment, fixtures and fittings within the school. Cleaning chemicals should conform to the Chemical Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) and be provided by the employer. Staff should not be asked to provide their own cleaning materials, solutions or equipment at any time.

    In conjunction with the above, the following actions should be taken by the school:

    1. Contact the Local Health Protection Team for advice and support
    2. Ensure only those fully trained and equipped with the relevant protective equipment are involved in any deep clean. A specialist cleaning team may have to be established.
    3. Notify all staff of what is happening and keep them updated on any developments.

    See the government’s advice on cleaning in a non-health care setting which covers educational settings. See also further advice published by the Department for Education on cleaning the environment, including toys and equipment. UNISON at a national level is continuously monitoring the situation.

    What should happen in a deep clean situation when there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19?

    In this situation the employer should do the following:

    1. Conduct full risk assessments
    2. Contact the Local Health Protection Team for advice and support
    3. Ensure only those fully trained and equipped with the relevant protective equipment are involved in any deep clean. A specialist cleaning team may have to be established.
    4. Provide the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including appropriate face masks for those responsible for decontaminating the school
    5. Notify all staff and keep them updated on any development.

    See our detailed advice. Also see the government advice on Covid-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings.

  • Home working

    I don’t have a role that can be done from home. Will I still be paid over any potential full closure of the school, for example during a deep cleaning period if we have a case of Covid-19 in the school?

    Under the terms of the NJC Green Book agreement, which covers the vast majority of support staff in local authority schools and academies, you will be paid for this closure period. UNISON would also argue that other schools should follow this commitment during this health emergency. If you have any issues, please contact your local branch.

  • How should IT technicians carry out their role safely

    To limit the potential for the spread of COVID-19, it is really important that staff and pupils do not move between bubbles. Firstly, before bubbles go live, the technology should be checked and tested for correct operation to reduce the likelihood of problems occurring.

    Government advice is still to work from home wherever possible, so thereafter, IT support should be given remotely wherever possible. Classroom staff should log issues with IT staff over the phone or via email/a web-based system. In many cases issues will be able to be fixed remotely over the phone or via remote computer access.

    If a problem can’t be resolved remotely, then it should only be dealt with when pupils and staff are not in the room/bubble. Technicians should not be required to go into bubbles while there are pupils and staff in the classroom. Visits should take place before or after school, or at break-time. In this situation, PPE such as masks, gloves, wipes and hand sanitiser should be provided to help limit the potential for cross-contamination. All devices should be sanitised before and after repairs – using alcohol based products / disinfectants. Hand hygiene is also key in these circumstances, advised both before and after entering a classroom.

    You should discuss these issues with your manager and other staff to ensure that they are part of your school’s risk assessment.

    In addition, UNISON liaises with the Association of Network Managers which is free to join. They have an online forum where you can discuss issues of best practice with other technicians. If this is of interest to you please have a look at www.anme.co.uk

  • Increasing pupil numbers

    My school is opening to more pupils and I am seriously concerned for my health and safety. What should I do?

    UNISON has consistently opposed unsafe premature expansion of pupil numbers in primary schools and nurseries in England. We believe that it increases the risks to pupils, staff, parents and the wider community. Many councils and schools have agreed with us and are delaying the expanded return to work. Unfortunately the government has pressed ahead with its plans and some schools have already reopened more widely.

    Therefore please read this advice very carefully. It outlines a series of steps you must take if you have serious specific concerns that returning to work will endanger your health or if your school’s plans are not adequate.

    Advice to members

    If you are thinking of submitting one of the letters, please read them thoroughly and look at your specific circumstances before sending them and before contacting your branch. However if you fit the criteria and have carried out the steps and have specific concerns then contact your UNISON branch before you send any of the new letters.

    We understand this is an extremely stressful time and we are committed to doing all we can to support you. UNISON will support you if you believe your health and safety is at serious risk if you go into your workplace.

    Do I need to tell my branch before I send in the letter to my head teacher/employer? 

    Yes, you must do everything possible to get in touch with your branch before sending your letter. You can find your branch here and either use the online contact form or phone number. Many branches also have their own websites with more contact details so a quick web search is usually helpful too. Branches will be exceptionally busy but it’s important that you get in touch to tell them you would like to send the letter to your employer. If you are unable to discuss this with your branch first, then send the letter to your head teacher/employer stating that you are sending it pending advice from your branch.

    If several of my colleagues also feel seriously concerned that returning to work will endanger our health, can we send the letter in signed by all of us?

    You can certainly work together with your colleagues to express your shared concerns. You must approach your branch or rep and let them know you would all like to submit the letter to your employer – they can submit this letter on your behalf.  If your branch is extremely busy and you have not been able to speak to them, send in the members’ template letter with your colleagues and carefully state that you are sending it pending the advice of your branch.

    What if I haven’t seen my school’s risk assessment, or my employer tells me it is still being completed?

    Legally, schools must produce a plan and risk assessment to ensure the safety of pupils and staff. They must consult you on the risk assessment in good time and government guidance also says that schools must work with unions on their plans. If your employer hasn’t consulted on the risk assessment before you are expected to return to the workplace, request it from your school, speak to your branch and send in the letter.

    If I go in to the workplace and that raises serious concerns about the safety of the workplace, can I send the letter afterwards?

    Yes. If having gone into your school/setting, you feel that elements of the risk assessment have not been met and you believe you would be in serious or imminent danger if you returned to the workplace the following day, then follow the same procedure. Speak urgently to your branch before sending the letter to your employer or head teacher setting out why you feel the environment is not safe to work in.

    What if I go in to the workplace and there aren’t enough pupils to warrant the numbers of staff on site?

    It is worth noting that from our discussions with multi-academy trusts, only around 30% of parents have said they intend to send their reception, year 1 and year 6 children into school at the moment. Therefore if you are on the rota but the number of pupils in school does not warrant as many staff members as have been asked to be on site, you should be allowed to return home since government guidance is still to work at home where possible.

    Can my employer sack me or discipline me if I don’t go in to work having sent in the letter? Will I lose pay?

    Remember you are not refusing to work. The model letter makes clear that you are making yourself available to work from home but you have serious concerns about your health and safety should you return to the workplace. Similarly, pay should not be deducted as you are making yourself available for work. The letter states that where your current role cannot be done from home that you would be willing to undertake other alternative duties at your current grade that can reasonably be undertaken from your home.

    If you are worried or your employer suggests that these outcomes are likely, please contact your local branch.

     

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