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We are regularly emailing COVID-19 updates to members. If you are not receiving these, please update your contact details or email preferences.
UPDATE: 22 February 2021:
What do we need to think about for the wider school-reopening?
In Scotland and Wales wider school reopening is due to commence from 22 February.
In England and Northern Ireland, schools will not reopen more widely until 8 March.
In readiness for the wider reopening Voice Community advocate:
- Schools must ensure they have a “live” risk assessment – especially in the light of the new variant Covid.
- Schools must implement control measures such as working with consistent groups (bubbles), ventilating rooms, regular handwashing, social distancing wherever possible, and face coverings – especially in communal spaces and corridors.
- Staff should have the option to be tested twice a week
- Pupils should be tested twice each week in secondary schools (again this is optional)
- Schools should be given the authority to phase their reopening according to staff/pupils needs etc.
- Schools should be given the flexibility to assess their situation if levels of infection rise.
In a nutshell, schools have a responsibility to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible for staff and pupils within the legal parameters established by government. Where risks exist schools should introduce measures to mitigate them. Testing and vaccination will also help to keep staff safe. We believe that it is important for schools to be able to act dynamically should they need to address rising infection rates in their community.
Schools and local authorities have been told to pay supply teachers 80 per cent of their wages during lockdown – even if their work is no longer needed and they were not on live assignments at the start of lockdown.
Voice Community is especially pleased with this outcome after we wrote to the DfE on this issue.
And the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), a national body that represents supply teacher agencies, wrote a separate letter stating that agencies couldn’t afford to pay new costs of the furlough scheme, including the workers' national insurance and pension contributions.
The new government guidance states: “Schools will continue to receive their budgets for the coming year as usual, regardless of any periods of partial or complete closure. This will ensure that they are able to continue to pay for staff and meet their other regular financial commitments.
“We expect schools to ensure any employees funded by public money continue to be paid in the usual fashion from their existing staff budgets, and correspondingly not furloughed, in line with the HMRC guidance for public sector organisations."
The guidance goes on to say. “Where schools have agency staff on live assignments who cannot continue to work due to coronavirus (Covid-19), we encourage schools to continue to make previously agreed payments for the supply staff at 80 per cent of the agreed contract rate. Agencies who receive money in line with this guidance should pay their staff accordingly, and not furlough them,"
In fact, even where staff were not on live assignments when schools closed, according to the guidance they should continue to be paid – even if schools or local authorities only “expected” to employ them.
It states: “Where schools or local authorities had expected to use their public funding to engage such staff and had budgeted for this, but work is no longer needed due to coronavirus (Covid-19), we encourage schools to pay staff at 80 per cent of their typical pay, in a similar way to agency workers who were on live assignments when schools began closing or reducing capacity.”
A minority of supply teachers employed directly by schools should also continue to be paid by the school – and their contracts should be reinstated if they were ended early due to the pandemic.
The guidance states: “Where schools have live assignments with supply staff, and where the school is the employer, schools should continue to pay these staff from their existing school budgets and not furlough them.
“Where schools have terminated contracts with supply staff due to coronavirus (Covid-19) earlier than the original terms set out, and where the school was the employer under that contract, schools should reinstate these contracts on the terms previously agreed, as long as the contractor is not already accessing alternative support through another government support scheme.”
The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which represents supply teaching agencies, welcomed the updated guidance. However, a spokesperson said: “It is not a compulsory requirement, which leaves an element of uncertainty for supply teachers, agency workers and recruitment businesses alike.”
Confusion over vaccination for early years workers
Although we continue to press for early years staff to be prioritised for the vaccine, at the moment eligible frontline health and social care staff are the only occupations being vaccinated. In some areas, early years staff are being vaccinated because they provide personal care as well as education, but this is not universal. A self-referral booking procedure, along with guidance, is in place for eligible social care worker vaccination (pdf).
Some staff will also be vaccinated by virtue of their age when the over-50s are vaccinated.
However, we have become aware that some confusion has arisen because the National Careers Service has included nursery staff and childminders in its list of “social care” occupations.
Clarification from the Department for Education (DfE) states:
“The decision on prioritisation remains with the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] who have not made any further announcements on the categorisation of those who should be receiving vaccinations under the current phase. The NHS published, on the 14th January, a standard operating procedure to support Local Authorities in identifying and vaccinating frontline social care workers as part of the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme. This includes the identification of eligible care workers and the roles and responsibilities within local systems for enabling and supporting care workers to be vaccinated. This document can be found here: Coronavirus » Vaccinating frontline social care workers (england.nhs.uk)
“The National Careers Service allows people to explore career choices and opportunities…[it] does not serve to present a strict classification of professional groupings and should be not used to prioritise staff for Covid-19 vaccines.”
The DHSC has also confirmed that prioritisation decisions for the next phase of delivery are subject to the surveillance and monitoring of data and information from phase one, as well as further input from independent scientific experts such as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
England's schools will not reopen before March
The Prime Minister has announced in Parliament that "it will not be possible" to reopen schools in England after the half-term break, but he hopes they can resume from 8 March.
Boris Johnson said a final decision would depend on meeting vaccination targets and schools would get two weeks' notice.
He also said that, as remote learning would continue, the Government would prolong arrangements including free school meals, food parcels and the national voucher scheme, until pupils returned to the classroom.
He announced that there will be a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this parliament including summer school initiatives and a further £300m for tutoring
We have concerns about the language of ‘catch-up’ and the nature of the Government’s proposed plans and will continue to work with ministers and officials at the DfE to ensure they meet the needs of pupils, teachers, support staff and leaders. And we will keep members updated.
Wales’ schools reopening plans
Wales’ First Minister, Mark Drakeford announced on BBC Breakfast (29 January) that some primary school children could begin a phased return to school from 22 February - just after half term - if Covid rates continue to fall.
He told BBC Breakfast that this would likely prioritise the very youngest children as "they're not able to learn online and remotely" adding that the phased return could include some pupils who were due to sit exams and "particularly those where there are practical aspects of examinations or vocational qualifications". [For an update on the situation in Wales, see the Open letter to headteachers of Operational guidance for schools and settings to support limited attendance of 22 February.]
In Northern Ireland pupils will not return to school until 8 March at the earliest, while rules on lockdown restrictions in Scotland are to be reviewed on 2 February.
In an email to schools (26 January), the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed schools in England will “close as usual” during half-term. We have been calling for this to be confirmed in good time to prevent schools from needing to contingency plan. Although we are aware that some staff will have to be on-call during the holidays for contact tracing purposes, we expect these staff will be offered equivalent time off to make up for it.
We’ve heard from lots of members recently with concerns about their health and safety. We are still pressing for staff to be regularly tested at work, and for them to be a priority for the vaccine. In some areas, early years staff are being vaccinated because they provide care as well as education, but this is not universal across England. In the meantime, we are supporting members in settings. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, so if you have any concerns please get in touch and we’ll do our best to help you – with advice, letters, meetings etc.
We’re especially aware of the difficulties some of you are having with accessing school places for your own children despite being keyworkers. To be clear, as a key worker, you are entitled to access childcare and in-school places for your children to enable you to carry out your work. If you are having difficulties, then you should let your employer know and then please, get in touch with us so we can understand the scale of this issue and raise it with schools, local authorities and the government.
Funding in Early Years for 2021/22
We welcome the recent announcement that early years providers will receive funding for all children attending even if some are temporarily off due to COVID-19 reasons. This will help providers to continue supporting children and parents at this difficult time.
We know that most providers have seen a significant drop in finances and believe that the Government should go a step further and provide funding based on pre-COVID numbers. The recent announcement will help to mitigate this but there is still a large gap that needs to be closed to ensure that early years providers can continue to offer their crucial services to families at their time of need. Voice Community will continue to push for this.
We continue to press the government for priority testing for teachers and schools and early years staff following the feedback from members to our survey.
We are pleased that the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi stated his view on ITVs ‘This Morning’ (18 January) that there is a justification for certain occupations to be prioritised as the vaccination programme develops. He said: “My instinct is that anyone who, through no fault of their own, has to come into contact with the virus in much greater volume and probability should be protected – teachers, policemen and women, shop workers, all those who need that additional protection,”.
We are extremely disappointed with the confusion around mass testing which is very unsettling for children, pupils and staff alike. We are still awaiting confirmation of the reliability and validity of the lateral flow tests devices.
We were particularly shocked by the response given by Dougal Hargreaves, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, in answer to a question by Labour MP Fleur Anderson on why early years providers had not been included in the DfE's lateral flow testing plans.
Mr Hargreaves responded that: "My understanding is that the plan is that the early years workforce and the primary workforce will all be included in the twice weekly testing programme," despite guidance published by the Department for Education yesterday confirming that "Staff in other early years settings, including childminders, can be tested through community testing programmes."
The Department for Education has now added to the confusion by announcing on 20 January that daily mass testing of staff and pupils in secondary schools will be paused because of new advice from Public Health England. However twice weekly testing of staff and pupils in Y7 and above will continue as previously announced. Click here for more information.
Although we are glad that the programme has been paused until we have more evidence on the reliability of the tests, this will mean that staff and pupils will once again have to self-isolate (as before) and so schools will potentially have to manage staff and pupil groups being out of school. It is our view that this means that a wider reopening is not sensible at this present time.
Early Years Foundation Stage Profile
We are pleased to note that in addition to SATs, GCSEs and A Levels, the government have decided the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile assessment does not need to be completed in 2021 but they are asking schools to make ‘best endeavours’ to undertake it. There will be no requirement to submit data to the local authority or to confirm whether they have completed the EYFSP to the Department for Education.
This change applies to schools who are early adopters of the Early Years Foundation Stage reforms, as well as schools who are following the current statutory framework. We will seek further clarity and confirmation to fully understand what this might mean for schools and their staff.
Paediatric First Aid requalification training
If you need Paediatric First Aid certificate requalification training but are unable to access it due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, your certificate can be extended to 31 March 2021 at the latest. This applies to certificates expiring on or after 1 October 2020.
(This is in recognition of the fact that some practitioners are facing difficulties in accessing requalification training due to courses being cancelled. If asked to do so, providers should be able to explain why the first aider has not been able to requalify and demonstrate what steps have taken to access the training. Employers or certificate holders must do their best to arrange requalification training at the earliest opportunity.)
GCSE & A Level Exams
Whilst the announcement has been made that courses will not be assessed in the usual manner, the DfE and OFQUAL have launched a consultation to consider what the assessment should look like.
We know that grading decisions will be made by Teachers and Schools, and the data will be moderated by Exam Boards. We also know that there is a proposal for an externally set ‘test’ to be used and this is another topic of the discussion. If you have strong views on this, please join the conversation, with your name and membership number, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff working in Primary Schools in England will be able to be tested from WC 18 January. Testing kits will be sent to all primary schools and staff will be able to test themselves at home. This includes staff working in early years settings that are part of a school. Other early years settings will be tested through the community testing programme.
Early Years staff will shortly be able to be tested as a priority group through the community testing programme. Community testing centres are being established across England and early years staff working in private and voluntary nurseries, pre-schools and other provision will be able to be tested. Staff working in early years settings within schools will be tested through their school.
The opening time of community testing centres may not be convenient for early years staff and we know that home testing is preferred for the sector. Together with other early years stakeholders, Voice Community has requested that home test kits are made available to EY staff as a matter of urgency.
All SATs, the phonics screening test and multiplication tables check have been cancelled for 2021. We are in regular discussion with the DfE about their plans for 2022 testing. As published GCSE and A Level exams will not take place as planned in England. A consultation is due to be launched in the coming days to determine what the next steps will be. It seems likely that grades will be based on teacher assessment but there may be some form of mandatory testing used to inform and support the decision-making process. Schools have a choice whether to go ahead with BTEC exams, or cancel them.