UNISON has written to the Department for Education, after its updated guidance on social distancing in education settings said that education staff do not require personal protective equipment (PPE).
While the union understands that the risks in schools are different to those in hospitals, it is concerned that the guidance doesn’t reflect all school situations – for example where social distancing is impossible, and where schools can be more like social care settings.
In its letter to the DfE, the union raises a number of points:
- following a risk assessment, there should be a supply of PPE for staff doing work where social distancing is impossible (such as supporting medical needs, notably where there are invasive interventions). Some schools already have a limited supply of PPE for these situations – UNISON strongly disagrees with the department’s implication that they shouldn’t have any;
- the guidance over-estimates the ability of staff and pupils to achieve social distancing in schools where children have complex needs, particularly in special schools;
- the blanket statement in the guidance that education staff do not require PPE contradicts advice from Public Health England, which is clear that PPE is needed for cleaners;
- the guidance talks about the need for schools to ration cleaning products. This is completely unacceptable. The DfE must ensure sufficient levels of cleaning products so staff and pupils can follow rules on hand-washing to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
The guidance also says that, in alternative provision settings, a risk assessment may be needed if it is thought that a child might not be able to follow social distancing instructions.
However, UNISON observes that children and staff in various education settings – not just in alternative provision settings – might be unable to follow social distancing guidelines. To be consistent with health and safety law, risk assessments should be carried out in all settings.
While we await further guidance from the department, branches should call on schools to fully follow UNISON’s health and safety advice for schools staff, as the best way to protect staff and pupils.