Schools FAQs

Schools FAQs regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19)

SCHOOLS 

Planning for Autumn Re-Opening 

Voice statement 

  1. Engage 

Voice encourages members to engage with preparations and logistical planning for the Autumn re-opening of nurseries and schools.  But members should not be required unnecessarily onto site to make these preparations. 

  1. Risk Assessment 

Any decision to open schools and nurseries to more pupils must be based on robust, reliable scientific and public health evidence that clearly states it is safe for staff and pupils, and which inspires confidence and co-operation in the workforce. Schools and nurseries must only open if stringent health and safety measures are not met, and employers must include employees in health and safety assessments. 

  1. Health & Safety and PPE 

Voice continues to push for clarity on the issue of PPE.   

Whilst the official advice from PHE and the Department for Education is that the majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, Voice believes that, should you want to wear a mask, or deem it necessary in your place of work, then you should not be prohibited from wearing one.  

  1. Testing 

We want to see testing of staff and their families which is regular and freely available, not only when a case is suspected, with widespread contact tracing following diagnosis. 

Should I engage with the risk assessment process? 

Every school and education setting must carry out a risk assessment before opening which they should make available to all staff. The assessment should consider the risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19), so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff.   

Voice is encouraging members to engage in the risk assessment process so that you are having your opinions heard and your concerns addressed. You are entitled to see a risk assessment because Employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety matters, and although your employer doesn’t have to produce a risk assessment for each individual employee, they do need to identify the ‘at risk’ groups and individuals (including BAME) and this may mean they need to produce individual risk assessments for those impacted to ensure their health and safety. 

Since you know your workplace best, you are the most appropriate person to know if the risks identified are being addressed, however, Voice has produced a risk assessment checklist, which although not exhaustive, may help guide you on what you should be looking for. 

If I am still shielding, and my school re opens, do I have to return to school, or can I keep working from home? 

If you are in the ‘critically extremely vulnerable’ category, then you should not return to school.  

If you are in the ‘critically vulnerable’ category then, where possible, you should work from home. If individuals cannot work from home, following an individual risk- assessment, they should be offered the safest available on-site roles, which ensures they will remain two metres away from others wherever possible, although the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for this distance if they prefer to do so.  

If they have to spend time within two metres of other people, settings must carefully assess and discuss with them whether this involves an acceptable level of risk.  A risk assessment should be completed. 

For more information on how these categories are defined, please see the ‘Who is clinically extremely vulnerable’ and the ‘Who is clinically vulnerable’ sections of the FAQ pages.  

Timetable and the Working Day 

Teachers in England and Wales are contracted to work 1265 hours of directed time over 190 pupil contact days and five INEST days.  School leaders must publish a calendar which shows how this has been spread across the year – covering all taught classes, parents’ evenings and any other mandatory event.   

Voice is supportive of plans to be flexible with the start and end times of the school day if this staggered approach is necessary to ensure the safety of those attending school.  However, we have expressed concern that this could mean some teachers inadvertently exceed their directed time, and that Support Staff may also exceed their contracted hours. 

Our expectation is that the school calendar (directed time, staggered start and end times etc.) is also consulted upon as part of the risk assessment process. This way all staff have an opportunity to respond and raise any concerns they may have. 

What should I be teaching to the children that do come back to school? 

Early years settings should make every effort to deliver the learning and development requirements as far as possible in the current circumstances, as set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). There is no need to gather evidence towards the Early Learning Goals and be aware that your children may require particular emotion support during this time. 

There is no expectation that schools and colleges will deliver their normal curriculum at this time. It is important that schools and colleges make decisions about how to support and educate all their pupils during this period, based on the local context and staff capacity.   

 Where year groups are returning to school, school leaders and teachers should: 

  • consider their pupils’ mental health and wellbeing and identify any pupil who may need additional support;
  • assess where pupils are in their learning; i
  • dentify and plan how best to support the education of high needs groups, including disadvantaged pupils, and SEND and vulnerable pupils; and
  •  support pupils in Year 6, who will need both their primary and secondary schools to work together to support their upcoming transition to Year 7. 

Of course, there will be many other pupils who will continue to learn at home and schools should continue to support those remaining at home, making use of the available remote education support. 

No school will be penalised if they are unable to offer a broad and balanced curriculum to their pupils during this period. 

Reception Baseline Assessment 

In 2017 the government announced plans to introduce a statutory reception baseline assessment (RBA) from autumn 2020.  Voice has been campaigning that this is something which needs to be postponed as it is unreasonable to expect schools to implement any new assessment at this time of national crisis. 

The government have responded, “Due to the challenging circumstances faced by schools in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, statutory introduction of the RBA has been postponed to Autumn 2021”.   

Schools can still voluntarily sign up to the RBA Early Adopter year. 

What if I don’t feel it is safe to return to school? 

It is expected that all staff will return to schools in September – including those who had been previously clinically extremely vulnerable. 

We advise all staff to engage fully with risk assessments, and it is a good idea for you to have a personal risk assessment to address any particular concerns, conditions or requirements you may have. This is especially important if you have been categorised as vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, you are pregnant, or you are from a BAME background.  

However, if after having engaged with the risk assessment process, you still do not feel it is safe to return to work, then please call us on 01332 372337 and our duty officer will be happy to help you with this issue.  

There is legal protection which can support you if you are required to work in situations which are unsafe, and no actions have been taken by your employer to mitigate against and reduce those risks.  However, you must seek advice from Voice on 01332 372337 before you consider taking any action. 

  • Section 44 of The Employment Rights Act 1996 allows for an employee to leave work and/or refuse to return if there is “serious and imminent danger”, without the risk of “detriment of any act”. This does not count as industrial action as this is set in law.   
  • Section 100 of The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides protections if you are dismissed because: 
  1. you bring health and safety risks to the attention of your employer; 
  2. You are designated to take action to reduce risks; 
  3. in circumstances of danger which you reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which you could not reasonably have been expected to avert, you left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to your place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work; or 
  4. you took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect yourself and your colleagues from the danger. 

What about workload? 

Your school leaders should consider the wellbeing of all staff, including you, your colleagues and the senior leaders themselves.  This might mean introducing flexible working practices in a way that promotes good work-life balance and supports teachers and leaders – especially those who have caring responsibilities at home. 

It is unreasonable for you to be expected to prepare work for children to do at home, if you are also expected to be fully working in the classroom.  And no one should be expected to work whilst they are ill. 

Workload should be carefully managed, and your Head Teacher should assess whether those staff who are having to stay at home due to health conditions are able to support remote education, leaving those on-site to focus on face-to-face provision.  

Can I complete my NQT or initial teacher training (ITT) year? 

The Department for Education have published updated guidance for NQTs (1 April 2020).  

Existing arrangements for NQTs are that ad-hoc absences totalling 30 days or more will automatically extend the induction of NQTs by the aggregate number of days absent.  However, the new guidance makes clear that NQTs absent for reasons related to the current COVID-19 public health emergency, including school closures, sickness or self-isolation, will not count towards this 30 day limit, and will not have their induction period automatically extended. 

This means that NQTs who are currently undertaking statutory induction can complete their induction this academic year as expected, provided they meet the Teachers’ Standards. 

To read the full guidance please click here

In relation to ITT courses, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson told Sky News (19 March 2020) that for trainee teachers who haven’t reached the number of mandated days in school to qualify, the government would be prepared to waive this.  The government went on to say that “Trainees making adequate progress towards the teachers’ standards, where the ITT provider judges that the trainee would have completed their ITT course successfully, should be recommended for QTS at the end of their course.”  

If you are not being signed off by your course provider/employer and you feel the reasons for this are unfair, then please call Voice on 01332 372337.  

What if I am experiencing childcare issues? 

The government has, on numerous occasions, expressed the importance of employers being flexible as workplaces across the country begin to reopen. On 3 June, in the daily Coronavirus briefing, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said that employers would need to be flexible if employees were experiencing childcare issues as a result of schools/nurseries being closed.  

As a critical worker, you should be able to access local provision but if, for some reason, you cannot, then you must explain the issue and should ask your employer to be flexible around your return to the workplace. 

If, after discussing this with your employer, you feel you need support, then please call Voice on 01332 372337.  

What about Maternity/Parental Leave? 

Whether you are just starting maternity leave, currently on leave or are about to return to work, your rights are unchanged.   

  • Due to go on maternity leave? Ensure you have submitted your Mat B1 form and you are entitled to your maternity pay in the usual way. 
  • Currently furloughed?  Once you begin maternity leave you will be paid your maternity pay at your normal rate. Check your contract for specific details. 
  • On maternity leave? You will continue to be paid maternity pay as usual. 

For a number of reasons, some new parents are having difficulty arranging childcare for their new-born due to, for example, social distancing measures/shielding from family members and nurseries not allowing visits for potential new starters.  

After reaching the required number of signatures, the petition for extended maternity leave is waiting to be debated in the house of commons. However, the government’s initial response is “The UK’s Maternity Leave offer is already amongst the most generous in the World – up to 52 weeks of leave are available, 39 weeks of which are paid – and we currently have no plans to extend it.”  

Many new parents have decided that they may want to return to school part time. The statutory right to ask for flexible working is unchanged. This right to ask does not, however, guarantee part time hours will be granted. If you would like to make a statutory request for flexible working, then please call Voice on 01332 372337 for advice and guidance

I work with students who need physical intervention and personal care. What protection and support is there for me? What should schools be doing to protect the health and well-being of learners and staff? 

If some of the children you care for are returning to school, or never left (children of key workers or children in receipt of an EHCP), or if the residential accommodation is home for the student, your employer needs to consider the following things in order to ensure your safety and the safety of the children you work with.  

  1. Your employer owes you a duty of care to keep you safe. They should undertake a thorough risk assessment to minimise the risk for every aspect of your work with the children. 
  2. There is certain basic protection that you have a right to insist on:  plentiful supplies of soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels and working hand driers. 
  3. Face masks might also be useful and necessary for undertaking certain tasks with the children you are caring for. 
  4. Schools/settings should uphold, promote and (where open) adhere to social distancing guidance so try and adhere to the 2m rule as much as you can whilst recognising that this will not always be possible in a special school.   
  5. School/settings should also recognise the importance of developing strong relationships in supporting everyone’s mental and emotional health. There needs to be added focus on pastoral care and activities to support mental well-being. Guidance should emphasise giving support and care for learners and staff. This should draw on and point to the wide range of support services available. 
  6. Schools/settings should give greater priority to ensuring learners are active providing more non-contact activities which promote physical activity e.g. games, dance, use of online exercise videos. 

Individually there are things you can do: 

  1. Tie back any long hair and take any jewellery, ties or other loose items off.  
  2. Leave a black bin liner outside your home so when you return from work you can put your clothes straight in it and then into the washing machine. Then go straight to the shower and try not to touch any door handles. If that is not possible then all handles should be wiped down. 
  3. Body and hair must be thoroughly washed with shampoo before they are considered ‘virus free’. 

Information on Isolation in Residential Schools can be found here

Remote Teaching & Learning  

How can I ensure I am safe, and my students are safe when working from home? 

Voice believes that children always learn best in a dedicated classroom learning environment.  There are a number of issues that must be addressed before you agree to engage in remote teaching, these include how to keep safe online, managing safety during video calls and streaming lessons, protecting personal data and GDPR and reporting safeguarding concerns.  Therefore, you should ensure that your school has addressed all of these issues and put in place robust measures to ensure your safety and the safety of your leaners before you start. 

It is important that you feel safe when engaging with your learners and if you do not feel your employer is taking the necessary steps to protect you, please do get in touch with the duty officer on 01332 372337. 

As part of its suite of online resources, the DfE has published further advice and guidance on safeguarding during remote education. [5 May] It can be found here.

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