Schools FAQs

Schools FAQs regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19). Last updated 18 March 2021.

SCHOOLS 

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.  

Tutors 

We have had a number of enquiries from tutors asking how the wider reopening of schools will affect them.  Further guidance was published late on Tuesday 23 which confirms that: 

From 8 March, out-of-school settings and wraparound childcare providers will be able to offer indoor and outdoor provision to: 

  • vulnerable children and young people 
  • other children, where the provision is: 
  • reasonably necessary to enable their parents and carers to work, search for work, undertake education or training, or attend a medical appointment or address a medical need, or attend a support group; 
  • being used by electively home educating parents as part of their existing arrangements for their child to receive a suitable full-time education; or 
  • being used as part of their efforts to obtain a regulated qualification, meet the entry requirements for an education institution, or to undertake exams and assessments. 

Out-of-school settings and wraparound childcare providers will be able offer provision as normal, to all children, from the start of the school summer term but no earlier than 12 April. 

England 

The government have invoked the contingency framework. This details, amongst other things, the amount of online learning that should be delivered to children, depending on their age. See the ‘Virtual Learning & Remote Education’ section of the FAQs for more information.  

OFSTED Inspection 

The government have confirmed that Ofsted inspections will not recommence until the summer term.  

Over the next six weeks, until Easter, Ofsted may conduct non-graded monitoring inspections of: 

  • inadequate schools 
  • schools judged as requires improvement at their last 2 (or more) consecutive inspections 
  • some other schools that require improvement 

This is reportedly to provide assurance to parents, support schools and to check whether leaders and those responsible for governance are taking effective action to provide education in the current (COVID) circumstances. 

Voice Community have advised that it is inappropriate for full inspection to recommence before September and that there will need to be recognition of the impact of COVID within inspection for the foreseeable future. 

Exams 

What is happening with GCSE and A Level Exams? 

In a statement to parliament on 6 January 2021, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said that teachers will be asked to assess grades again, adding that the Department for Education department and regulator Ofqual had already worked up a range of contingency options but we are not yet clear what this means 

Vocational and Technical Qualifications, are they cancelled too? 

We checked with Ofqual and were told that school and colleges can continue with the assessments due to take place in January where they judge it is right to do so. Whilst many students will have been well-prepared and ready to take these assessments, we are disappointed that the decision has been left with centres as this will cause confusion massively impacting on students and possibly lead to inequality.  We are pressing OFQUAL for a response to this. 

What about SATs and Primary Assessment? 

We asked the DfE about SATs on 5 January 2021, in a response to Labour's Paul Blomfield, Gavin Williamson said in Parliament on the 6 January he could "absolutely confirm that we won't be proceeding with SATs this year".  This was confirmed here

Voice Community has been campaigning that SATs are an unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on primary schools and are thrilled that schools can focus on supporting the learning of children without a focus on testing. 

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile 

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile assessment does not need to be completed in 2021 but the government 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.  

We will seek further clarity and confirmation to fully understand what this might mean for schools and their staff. 

The Foundation Stage curriculum remains, and providers should continue to support their children to meet their Age-Related Expectations. 

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. 

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.) 

Northern Ireland 

What is the situation for schools in Northern Ireland? 

Special schools will remain open as usual. 

Department of Education website - frequently asked questions.

What about free school meals? 

Direct payments will be made to families whose children are entitled to free school meals. 

Exams 

Education Minister, Peter Weir, announced all GCSE, AS and A2 exams due to take place in January, February, May and June have been cancelled.

Further details   

Scotland 

What are the arrangements for the phased reopening of schools? 

For the period from Monday 11 January to Friday 29 January, vulnerable children and the children of key workers will attend school in-person.  Schools should offer learning and teaching for these groups (vulnerable children and children of key workers) and only necessary staff should be required on site. 

All other pupils should be provided with an appropriate timetable of remote learning during the period from Monday 11 January to Friday 29 January.  

Read more

I work in a school. Where can I find more detailed guidance? 

Guidance was issued in response to the First Minster’s announcement of 19 December 2020 and was intended to support a phased start to the spring term 2021. This includes details of the phased reopening arrangements. The original aim was for a full return to school buildings and face-to-face learning and teaching for all children on 18 January but that has been pushed back to the end of January. 

This guidance can be found here and supplements the existing Coronavirus: reducing risks in schools guidance specifically to support schools and local authorities over the period from 21 December 2020 until 18 January 2021. 

What about Free School Meals? 

Local authorities and schools should continue to provide free school meals or alternatives in line with family preference such as, cash payments; supermarket vouchers; home deliveries; or in school. 

Local authorities and schools will use different approaches depending on their individual circumstances and in response to local need. These approaches may also need to change due to health protection advice. 

Where can I get more advice from Voice Community? 

Contact the Scottish Office of Voice Community on 0131 220 8241 or email scotland@voicetheunion.org.uk 

Exams 

In Scotland next year's Higher, Advanced Highers and National 5 exams have been cancelled. 

Wales 

What does a ‘bubble’ mean?   

Bubbles are a way of grouping people minimising contact between all individuals.  For learners, the emphasis will be on forming contact groups and ensuring there is no mixing of those groups. And for older learners and staff it will also be on maintaining social/physical distancing where possible. 

Is cross bubble working OK? 

Ideally you should remain with a consistent group of learners.  Staff responsible for younger learners should remain with set contact groups and only under exceptional circumstances should you be expected to change between different groups. Where bubbles are not possible, other measures such as distancing, face coverings, and hand washing should be especially observed. 

What if I can’t maintain Social Distance? 

All staff should adhere to the social/physical distancing measures as far as possible; however, Welsh Government recognise that when working with younger learners this may not always be possible. In these circumstances’ they recommend a high quality 3-layer face coverings be worn by staff members.  Voice Community also advises members that as long as there is no detriment to the individual or to their learners there should be no reason why you cannot wear a face covering should you wish to. 

Should learners wear masks in secondary schools? 

Face coverings should be worn in the classroom by staff and learners in secondary schools where social distancing cannot be maintained, as well as in all areas of the school building outside the classroom. 

Should I use medical standard masks? 

Where a decision is made to use a face covering the Welsh Government encourages individuals to wear recyclable high quality three layered multi-use face coverings and use them correctly, covering the mouth and nose, ensuring hand hygiene before putting on and following removal. Schools and settings should also ensure adequate waste bins on premises for those who choose to use single-use face coverings. 

What testing is being offered in Welsh schools? 

All staff in schools will be offered LFD testing kits for completion at home twice a week usually in the morning.  If you test positive, then you will need to book a confirmatory PCR test and must isolate until you get the result.  Anyone testing positive on the LFT will need to notify the school, who may advise the class/es to also isolate for the day.   

Testing will also be offered to students in year 10 and above on their return, to be done at home and also available twice weekly. 

What should I do if I am asked to do tasks outside of my role? 

Schools and settings do sometimes need to alter the way in which they deploy their staff but managers should always discuss and agree any changes to staff roles with individuals. Any flexibility in deployment should not lead to you or your colleagues operating outside of the normal scope of your role and you are entitled to refuse to carry out tasks outside of your role. Please contact Voice Community for support if you have concerns. 

Exams 

What is happening with GCSE, AS & A Level Exams in Wales?  

Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced in November that GCSE, AS and A-level exams in Wales are to be cancelled, with grades based on classroom assessments.  And since school remain closed to the majority of pupils, Qualifications Wales has confirmed the internal assessment window for GCSE, AS and A levels scheduled to run from 22 February to 23 April is also cancelled. 

Supply Teachers 

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.  https://www.voicetheunion.org.uk/news-media-issues/lack-support-agency-workers 

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.” 

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