To protect pupils, staff, parents and the wider community – and to help avoid more local or national lockdowns – the government must put its money where its mouth is and fund proper school cleaning.

We all want schools to be safe for September so that pupils can get back to learning in the environment they’re used to.

UNISON is campaigning for:

More cleaners

Now that government guidance requires more rigorous and regular cleansing of classrooms, washrooms, and items touched regularly, the importance of school cleaners has never been more apparent. It’s unacceptable and unsustainable to leave schools to make do without extra resources when some face additional costs of thousands of pounds per term.

Cleaning staff are already overwhelmed. They’re dealing with massively increased workloads, taking on new shift patterns and covering for isolating colleagues to maintain a challenging schedule of disinfection throughout the school site.

The demands are so great that non-cleaning staff like teaching assistants are routinely required to clean classrooms and toilets too, despite having their own jobs supporting pupils. It’s not what staff want and it’s not what pupils deserve.

We’re writing to the government calling on it to urgently fund the provision of an army of cleaners in schools so that safety standards are met.

What can I do?

Show your support for the campaign on social media.

Proper training and PPE

Cleaning a busy school is a specialist job at the best of times. But with the serious risks posed by the coronavirus, it’s a whole different ball game.

Staff are going well beyond their normal procedures to deep clean on a constant basis with little to no guidance, and over a quarter haven’t had specialist training in the hazardous substances they’re expected to use.

Worryingly, a fifth of our members surveyed also said cleaners at their school don’t have access to the appropriate PPE. Cleaners are on the frontline of defending schools from this virus and they deserve protection while they do this essential work.

Given the heightened risk to these members of staff, we’re calling for individual risk assessments and protective measures in line with the joint union checklist.

We’re telling the government it needs to give schools the resources to provide proper PPE and specialist training to their cleaners in the correct handling of potentially harmful cleaning chemicals. 

What can I do?

If you work in a school, please tell us what’s happening with cleaning.

Decent sick pay

To fight COVID-19, staff must be able to fully comply with self-isolation measures when they need to. But lots of school cleaners are employed by private firms, many of whom pay only the minimum wage and do not provide contractual sick pay. Isolating will be an impossible decision for these staff, who’ll have to rely on statutory sick pay of just £95.85 per week, if they earn enough to qualify for it at all.

The fact that some staff will face rent arrears and debt if they stay away from work when they’re potentially infectious leaves schools open to becoming hubs for spreading the virus. We’ve seen it in care homes, where higher rates of infection were found in those with inadequate sick pay.

Two-tier sick pay has always been an issue of fairness; COVID-19 makes it an urgent safety issue too.

We’re campaigning to get private contractors in schools to pay their staff proper contractual sick pay and at least the real Living Wage (£9.30 across the UK and £10.75 in London) so they can afford to isolate to protect the school community and prevent further closures.

What can I do?

Ask your UNISON branch to write to your school’s head teacher (using our model letter) urging them to make contact with all contractors operating in the school and to secure agreement to the payment of full contractual sick pay and the real Living Wage as a minimum by the beginning of the new school year, as well as ensuring they get a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave per year.


More cleaners needed to make ​English schools safe for return of pupils and staff, says UNISON

Jon Richards calls on government to provide schools with funds to increase cleaning services