Reviewed and updated September 2021
Government guidance makes it clear that schools should be ensuring the following:
- all adults in all schools wearing face coverings in communal areas unless exempt;
- staff permitted to wear face coverings in classrooms if they wish;
- Year 7 and older pupils wearing face coverings in communal areas unless exempt;
- clear instructions that close contacts of suspected Omicron cases to be in self-isolation for a minimum of ten days;
- all Covid-related risk assessments reviewed and revised if necessary;
- all other existing mitigations and controls to remain in place.
In addition, the NASUWT strongly advises:
- all staff and/or parents meetings are moved online with immediate effect;
- any non-essential activities or events are postponed or cancelled.
What measures should be in place to make sure that virtual parent/teacher consultation events are acceptable to the NASUWT?
In light of the ongoing implications of the pandemic, the NASUWT remains clear that it is not appropriate for schools to organise on-site parent/teacher consultation events and that virtual events should be held instead.
Members in Scotland should note that current official guidance confirms that all such events should be held virtually.
It is important that virtual events are organised safely and manageably. No teacher should be expected to engage remotely with the parents of individual children unaccompanied. This reflects good practice in face-to-face parents’ evenings where no teacher is expected to meet with parents in a room on their own with a closed door.
There should, therefore, be at least one other member of staff present in any video or phone conference with parents. Where members of staff join conferences with parents from the same physical location, on-site Covid-control measures must be followed.
In any virtual consultation, teachers should not be expected to make use of their own equipment. This may mean that such sessions can only be held while teachers are on site rather than at home if they do not have access to school equipment while off site.
In all circumstances, virtual parent/teacher consultation events should not take place without a prior workload audit to ensure that they do not result in additional burdens for teachers and school leaders. Employers should also ensure that a specific risk assessment has been undertaken in advance of the event.
It is essential that all reasonable steps are taken by schools and employers to protect staff from the risk of parents or others recording consultations. Such recording is entirely unacceptable.
The NASUWT expects that schools should communicate their expectations to parents in this respect in advance and reinforce these messages through reminder notices in virtual waiting rooms or by advising teachers to reiterate them at the start of each meeting.
If members become aware during a meeting that a recording is being made, they should terminate the call and report the incident to their school. They should also report any evidence that comes to light after a meeting that a recording of it may have been made.
The NASUWT will support members in pressing for robust action to be taken by schools and employers against any person found to be recording parent/teacher consultation sessions.
Members should seek advice from the NASUWT directly if they have concerns about any aspect of the arrangements for consultation events in their school.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, my school has introduced a new system for medical appointments conducted over the telephone, which includes staying in class until the phone rings. Is this permissible?
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many GP/hospital consultations are now conducted over the phone, sometimes with little indication of when the call will be received.
Such appointments remain private and confidential and teachers should not be required to take a call at work. They must be permitted to take the call from home if they wish due to the circumstances and context of the telephone consultation. In this case, leave to attend a medical appointment should be requested.
If, however, you are happy to take an appointment call during your working hours in your school/college, the school should be informed and must provide a private space in which a call of this nature can be taken confidentially.
If the time of the call is known, a private space should be made available in advance of the time of the call and cover must also be provided in order to enable you to take the call.
If the time of the call is unknown, the private space and cover should be made available until the call is received or another method agreed for you to take the call confidentially, such as deploying a cover supervisor who can take over the class when the call is received.
Should I be expected to deliver online classes via a webcam to self-isolating pupils while teaching the rest of my class face-to-face? Should my school ask teachers to allow pupils who are isolating to drop in using the school's online platform?
Recordings of online lessons are defined as protected under GDPR legislation and cannot be collected, stored or retrieved without the permission of the parents of children participating in the lesson. The NASUWT has received examples of lessons being recorded and misused, e.g. recordings being posted on social media and a recording being uploaded to a porn site. Therefore, the Union advises members not to participate in live lessons which are video streamed to pupils’ homes unless measures are in place to prevent inappropriate practices.
The NASUWT does not believe that it is appropriate for a teacher to teach a class of pupils face-to-face and for the lesson to be streamed live so that pupils who are at home can watch the lesson and possibly participate in that lesson remotely. Such an approach raises significant issues for data protection and privacy. It also places unrealistic demands on the class teacher who will be trying to juggle teaching face-to-face with remote teaching and learning, including possibly managing issues related to pupil behaviour in the classroom and/or online.
Those who receive a positive result will be required to self-isolate for at least ten days and at least ten days if there is a positive test for a member of their household, unless they are fully vaccinated (e.g. both doses of the Covid-19 vaccination) or under 18. However, if the case is a suspected or confirmed Omicron variant, all close contacts will be required to self-isolate for ten days.
If the test results are negative, then self-isolating restrictions are lifted immediately in England and Wales.
The Scottish Government advises that even if a key worker has had a negative result, it is important to still apply caution. If everyone with symptoms who was tested in their household receives a negative result, the employee can return to work if their work cannot be done from home. Employees should discuss their return to work with their employer.
Employees who display the symptoms associated with Covid-19 (coronavirus) should obtain a PCR test. If the test is negative, they can return to work. However, if the test is positive they must self-isolate for the requisite period.
Self-isolation is necessary to protect the health of individuals and the wider population and those who are symptomatic must not be pressurised into attending the workplace.
I am 32 weeks' pregnant and feel well, but my school/college has said that I will need to commence my maternity leave immediately due to the coronavirus. Is that correct?
There is no requirement for a teacher to take maternity leave early due to coronavirus.
The teacher’s rights in law are unaffected and a teacher should not be forced by an employer to take maternity leave from a particular date.
The UK Government’s guidance on coronavirus makes clear that those who are pregnant are a vulnerable group. This is because pregnancy can alter how the body handles severe viral infections and because some viral infections, such as flu, are worse in pregnant women.
The advice and guidance published by the UK Government is that pregnant women at any period of gestation should not be required to continue working unless this is supported by an appropriate risk assessment.
In respect of women who are pregnant and in their third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant), advice and guidance produced by the UK Government expects all employers to take a more precautionary approach, particularly as there is evidence which suggests a link between the symptoms of Covid-19 and complications in and around the time of birth, including premature birth, pre-eclampsia, the need for an emergency caesarean and stillbirth.
Employers are strongly encouraged to ensure that they stay at home and work remotely where possible.
A teacher who is pregnant should be expected to stay at home and may be asked to work from home, without this impacting on maternity leave entitlement, pay or other maternity rights.
Further advice and guidance for pregnant or expectant mothers is available on our Covid-19 Advice pages.
As a supply teacher undertaking an assignment, what should I do if I have been asked to undertake either a lateral flow test or PCR test?
Whilst the revised operating guidance from the DfE no longer makes specific reference to supply teachers and temporary staff in respect of asymptomatic testing in schools, the Union maintains that it is still good practice for supply teachers to be included in its communications, policies and processes for asymptomatic testing, including the provision of test kits where feasible.
Indeed, DfE officials have confirmed that all staff, including supply teachers as temporary staff, should be offered testing and are strongly encouraged to participate in any testing adopted by schools and colleges to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The Union still maintains that it should be the responsibility of either the agency and/or the school to provide the relevant test for supply teachers to complete when undertaking an assignment.
If school leaders are content for supply staff to test themselves ahead of their arrival, then schools are encouraged to share test kits in advance of their arrival, where appropriate.
If you are invited to undertake a Covid-19 test, you should have the opportunity to attend the school/college earlier to familiarise yourself with the testing process, which should be factored into your assignment, and you should be paid accordingly in respect of the daily rate you receive.
In addition, supply teachers can order adequate supplies of lateral flow tests or get tested at a test site. You are eligible to obtain up to two packs of seven tests from a local pharmacy or test site or order them to be sent to your home and report the results online or on the phone.
As a supply teacher, my agency/umbrella company has asked me to disclose to them that I am Covid-19 free in order to obtain work. What does the NASUWT advise?
In the same way that an agency or umbrella company has an obligation to a supply teacher as part of its duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, agencies and umbrella companies also have an obligation to each school as the client or end user in respect of health and safety.
This would include satisfying itself that an agency worker does not, to the best of their knowledge, have Covid-19 or associated symptoms and disclosing this to the agency or umbrella company prior to being offered an assignment.
Supply teachers also have an obligation under health and safety, including a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their actions at work, particularly during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This includes cooperating with the agency and the school and providing information which may impact on the school’s risk assessment.
Further to this, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 (pdf) places an obligation on a worker to tell their employer that they are self-isolating (Regulation 8).
In addition, the Regulations make it an offence for an employer to knowingly permit a worker, including a supply teacher working through an agency, to attend any place other than where the individual is self-isolating (Regulation 7). This includes those who are required to self-isolate because they live with someone who has tested positive.
If an employer knows a worker has tested positive, or lives with someone who has tested positive, they are now responsible for stopping the worker from working, unless they can work from home.
Any individual who breaches self-isolation will, normally, commit a separate criminal offence (Regulation 11).
Whilst a number of the aforementioned regulations remain in place, it should be noted that the easing of restrictions has resulted in a number of key exemptions to those who are expected to self-isolate, including:
a person who has received a complete course of vaccination in the UK, provided that the contact takes place more than 14 days after completion of the course,
a person who has taken part in a vaccine trial,
a person who can provide evidence that for clinical reasons they should not be vaccinated, and
As a supply teacher working for an agency, I have been required to self-isolate. How will this affect my pay?
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is available from day one to anyone advised to self-isolate, even if they do not have the symptoms. This includes supply teachers as agency workers provided they meet the eligibility criteria.
The Government has also made it easier for those who do not qualify for SSP to claim benefits, such as Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.
The Government has removed the four-day qualifying period so this can be claimed from the first day of absence due to self-isolation.
Supply teachers may also be able to claim Universal Credit or contributory Employment and Support Allowance. Further details on the above can be found on the Government's web page Coronavirus (COVID-19): what to do if you’re employed and cannot work.
The advice is clear that if you are expected to self-isolate because you or someone else in your house/support bubble has symptoms or has tested positive for Covid-19, or have been in contact with someone with coronavirus, you are entitled to SSP if you meet the eligibility criteria.
If your agency is refusing to pay you SSP please contact the NASUWT for further advice and guidance. Alternatively, you can contact the HMRC Statutory Payment Disputes Team.
Statutory Sick Pay
Supply teachers working through a supply agency or an umbrella company may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) provided they meet the eligibility criteria. Social security legislation uses a broader definition of ‘employee’ which means that supply teachers may be eligible for SSP if they have three months continuous service and earn a minimum of £118 per week or, if the level of pay varies, it will depend on the average pay over the previous eight weeks.
For the purposes of supply teachers as agency workers, continuous employment is not broken by periods of sickness, annual leave or if the agency is unable to offer work.
If a supply teacher has more than one contract with an agency and their earnings are aggregated for the purposes of National Insurance Contributions (NICs), they must be incapable of work under all their contracts before they are entitled to SSP.
The Government has removed the four-day qualifying period so this can be claimed from the first day of absence due to self-isolation. Further information is available on the Gov.uk website (see links below).
Supply teachers may also be able to claim Universal Credit or contributory Employment and Support Allowance, and further details can be found on the Gov.uk website (see links below) or from your local Jobcentre Plus.
If you are working on a daily supply basis in a school that closes due to the virus, unless you are told to self-isolate, you may obtain work in another school.
Other state benefits
As a supply teacher, depending on your circumstances and the eligibility criteria, you and your partner may be able to access one or more of the following benefits:
- Universal Credit
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Jobseeker’s Allowance
Universal Credit is a payment to help with your living costs. It’s paid monthly and is available for those who on a low income or who are out of work provided they meet the eligibility criteria, which may include supply teachers as agency workers.
The Government has stated that those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a Jobcentre.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
ESA is an individual benefit for those with a disability or health condition which impacts on their ability to work.
ESA provides money towards living costs if you are unable to work, as well as supporting individuals back into work.
Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
JSA is available online for those who are currently unemployed who are actively looking for work or work fewer than 16 hours per week.
Further information, including eligibility criteria, can be found at the Gov.uk website:
All FAQs relating to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, including those for supply teachers, have been moved to our dedicated page Coronavirus FAQs - CJRS.