With some schools open already and the rest set to follow in the next couple of weeks, here is the latest information from UNISON about safety in schools and early years.
We’ve got an update on face coverings, a reminder about our dedicated guidance page, and important new advice for staff who have serious concerns that returning to the workplace will endanger their health.
The government has been forced to change its guidance on face coverings after weeks of pressure from UNISON and other unions (as well as high-profile scientist Professor Alice Roberts referencing our advice).
From 1 September, head teachers in secondary schools in England will have the “discretion” to introduce face coverings in their schools.
Additionally, in areas of local lockdown, staff and pupils in secondary schools will be required to wear face coverings in corridors and communal spaces. (The same exemptions for those unable to wear face coverings will apply.)
UNISON’s position remains that staff should be allowed to wear face coverings in any educational setting, if you choose to. We continue to pressure the government to issue clearer guidance and we will keep our FAQ on face coverings updated.
New government guidance
Support staff unions’ statement: Conditions for return to school-
Over the last few days there has been further speculation that the government is considering increasing the number of pupils in schools in June.
UNISON, GMB and Unite, the recognised unions for school support staff, have been supporting their members who have been continuing to work in schools throughout this time. The unions have also been taking feedback from school staff on the government’s reported plan to increase pupil numbers. This has shown very high levels of concern and worry from staff and parents about a premature return to school before it has been proven safe to do so.
The three unions have already set out the conditions they believe need to be met before schools can safely be reopened. At this time we do not believe that the government has met these conditions.
UNISON, GMB and Unite are therefore seeking urgent talks with government. We have also called on the TUC to co-ordinate a joint position to protect staff and pupils with the other teacher and heads’ unions.
In the meantime, please keep a regular eye on our respective websites for up to date information.
We, like all, want to see pupils back in schools as soon as possible, but this should only happen when it is proven safe to do so and parents are reassured to send their children into school.
Follow Unison Schools on Facebook for up to date news and information
Advice on Contractors in Schools –
If you work in a school or work for a contractor in a school, there is new advice from the government about continuity for contractors. Essentially, UNISON advises that schools should continue to pay all their contractors – and that contractors should pay their staff!
This information should be used to help ensure all staff keep their jobs and their pay during the Covid-19 crisis. The advice is detailed but can be shared with your employer to help clarify what is expected. Contact UNISON firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss how this affects your school or your position as the employee of a contractor. Click here to see the government document in full.
Schools Workers – Latest Advice from UNISON
UNISON appreciates these are extraordinary times for all with increased anxiety and emotions running high. The latest news of some schools staying open has no doubt added to this. As a branch we will continue to support our members and to ensure we all get the best advice and information.
Southend Local Government UNISON’s latest advice on the current situation is:
- You should not be in school at work if you, people you live with, or people you care for are in an ‘at risk group’ (see UNISON’s national website www.unison.org.uk for the details on this)
- The school should seek volunteers to work where possible
- Large staff meetings should not be held
- You should only be caring for children who have no other means of care due to the critical role their parents have (around 10% of the school population) – the school needs to be clear with parents that if they can care for their children they should
- You should not be at work if you are not directly supporting children. For instance, you do not need to be in school to be put on a rota to clean out the cupboards! Heads should be minimising contact by minimising numbers of workers in the school. This in turn will minimise the risk of infection
- You should have access to PPE (personal protective equipment) such as hand sanitisers and wipes.
Working over the Easter holidays:
- You need a break too – try and negotiate what rota best suits you over this time. Maybe have a week as a block of time off if this is appropriate?
- You should get paid for working over the holiday – if you prefer time off in lieu then ask but be aware this might be hard to take and the current situation may last for a long period of time.
The local UNISON website www.unisonsouthend.org.uk and the national website www.unison.org.uk have information for all workers and this information will be updated regularly. Please share this resource with colleagues.
We will be contacting schools directly to inform them of our concerns and expectations as above. Remember you do have rights and while you will be working hard to do what you can for children, do not place yourself at any unnecessary risk.
If you or your colleagues are union members but do not receive emails from UNISON, please email us at email@example.com to enable us to ensure we can keep in touch with you.
Please keep in touch with your union over these issues whether with good stories about how we are coping safely or your concerns and worries, so we can collectively support each other in what are unprecedented times.