Reviewed and updated September 2021
I wish to wear a face covering/mask at school, but my headteacher has said I must remove it. Can they do that? (England)
The NASUWT’s position is that any teacher who wishes to wear a face covering or face mask should be allowed to do so and that it is unreasonable for an employer to prevent them from doing so.
Teachers have a right to take action to protect themselves and others under the Employment Rights Act 1996 which states, ‘An employee has the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by his employer done on the ground that...in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.’
The Union does accept that there may be some special circumstances where there are pupils who need to be able to lip read in order to communicate with the teacher, but believes that this can be overcome, such as through the use of a face covering with a transparent panel.
The risk assessment indicates a mask should be worn when undertaking certain tasks, including dealing with suspected cases. Should the mask comply with any standards? (England)
In high-risk circumstances (such as dealing with a suspected case), FFP3 masks that are clearly CE marked should be used.
In lower risk circumstances, an FFP2 mask may suffice, but must also be CE marked. If in doubt, an FFP3 mask should be used.
For masks to be effective, the wearer must be clean shaven and the mask fit tested and members should bear this in mind when undertaking tasks where a mask is required.
Where close contact with pupils is required and this has been risk assessed and PPE is provided, it should be noted that wearing a clear visor without a mask is not appropriate. PPE should either be a face mask or a clear visor and a face mask.
My headteacher is requiring me to sign the risk assessment which has been produced for me. Can I do this? (England)
You should not be asked to sign that you agree to the risk assessment and should not do so. Risk assessments are the employer’s responsibility.
It is not unreasonable, however, for a headteacher to ask a member of staff to sign to say they have received the risk assessment but that should be clear on the document you are signing. The NASUWT would expect the following, for example, to be on the document, ‘I confirm that I have received a copy of the school’s risk assessment.’
If there is just a space for a signature and no explanation of the reason for the signature, then either refuse to sign or write on the document, ‘I am signing to confirm that I have received a copy of the risk assessment.’
I work closely with a colleague who is anti-vaccination. Where does that leave me and what are my rights in this situation? (England)
The current government advice makes it clear that the vaccination status of a workforce has no impact on the Covid-secure guidelines employers must follow.
Your employer should adhere to its health and safety obligations and explain how it intends to meet its obligations fully.
It should be noted that vaccination primarily gives protection to the recipient, not others, and the evidence that the vaccine prevents transmission is limited.
Vaccination is not mandatory. In the absence of it becoming a legal requirement, an employer cannot force an employee to be vaccinated without their consent.
Vaccination without consent could amount to the criminal offence of assault and battery and could contravene an individual’s human rights.
An employee who was compelled to obtain the vaccine and who suffers and adverse reaction may bring personal injury proceedings against the employer.
The Acas guidance suggests that a refusal to be vaccinated could, in some situations, result in a disciplinary procedure. However, this would depend on whether:
it was required by the employer’s workplace policy;
vaccination was necessary for an employee to do their job;
the employee’s reason for refusing the vaccine might be protected under the Equality Act 2010.
The Acas guidance also advises that employers should support staff in getting the vaccine, but cannot force them to be vaccinated. Therefore, your employer would need to be extremely careful in taking any action against you.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance states that employers should respect its duty of confidentiality to employees and should not routinely disclose vaccine status among colleagues unless it has a legitimate and compelling reason to do so.
Some employers may attempt to justify their reason for asking by contesting that the request amounts to a reasonable management instruction on the basis that it is a request intended to protect health and safety. However, as this is information about the employee’s health, under the GDPR, it is deemed to be special category personal data. Therefore, your consent to the request to disclose your personal data is necessary.
It is also important to ask the employer how it proposes to process this vaccination data (including your personal data) in accordance with the GDPR - what personal data is required, who will it be shared with, how long will it be kept for, and what decision will be made based on the data held.
The Government does not regard vaccination as one of the essential covid control measures that employers must implement. Other control measures, such as social distancing, PPE, and hand hygiene must be maintained and, in this context, there is no relevant need for the employer to know the vaccination status of an individual.
The Government removed the legal requirement to wear face coverings in July and currently the DfE does not expect pupils or staff to wear a face covering in school. However, the expectation still applies on public transport and dedicated school transport.
Although the general legal duty has been removed, the requirement to wear a face covering can be reintroduced by local public health authorities.
Employers also have the ability to include the wearing of face coverings in their risk assessment. An employer who has implemented a rule or policy on face coverings in its own risk assessments will usually be able to rely on the implied duty for employees to follow lawful and reasonable orders as the legal basis for those requirements.
However, specific objections should be considered on a case-by-case basis. If the reason that the employee refuses to wear a mask is medical and they can provide evidence of this, it is unlikely that an employer can treat this as a failure to obey reasonable instructions.
Teachers are not expected to cover for absent colleagues and neither are they expected to teach pupils who they have not been assigned to teach, i.e. pupils who are not registered for timetabled lessons with them.
The management of the school should plan for staff shortages and take appropriate action to ensure the health and safety of all employees and pupils are not compromised, such as they would normally.
A key element of this planning should involve the use of supply staff to address any shortages of permanent teaching staff.
Some schools are asking staff to teach live remotely at the same time as in class. Is it correct that this can be refused? (England)
The NASUWT’s advice remains clear that it is not 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 and 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.
What is the NASUWT doing to ensure that Ofsted takes into account the impact of the pandemic when inspecting schools in the future? (England)
Ofsted has confirmed that it will recommence routine inspections from September 2021.
The NASUWT has made clear that it is essential that Ofsted inspections take full account of the previous and ongoing implications of the pandemic in conducting its activities. The resumption of inspection must reflect the fact that schools will be focused on education recovery and that it would be inappropriate for inspection to detract from this work.
The NASUWT has also made clear that important changes to the inspection framework introduced in September 2019, including a strong focus on teacher and school leader workload and wellbeing and more intelligent and proportionate use of pupil performance data, will be particularly important features of a fit-for-purpose, post-pandemic approach to inspection.
The NASUWT has produced detailed advice and guidance for members on inspection from 2021.
How can we respond to requests from senior leadership to be Ofsted-ready and for continued practices such as lesson observations happening at this time, both in remote live lessons and in the classroom? (England)
Assertions that lesson observations are essential to ensure that schools are ‘Ofsted-ready’ are entirely unnecessary and highly inappropriate.
Ofsted has no expectation that schools conduct such activities and its long-standing view that schools should not prepare for Ofsted inspections, including the limited additional monitoring inspections being undertaken currently, remains in place.
Further guidance on these inspections and how schools should respond to them is available on our Ofsted Inspection page.
What representations regarding workload and catch-up measures for leadership members are being specifically made at national level? (England)
The Union has made clear that education recovery cannot be done on the cheap or at the expense of teachers, school leaders and support staff in schools who are already working around the clock.
The NASUWT is continuing to insist that education recovery cannot be based on trying to squeeze more out of a teacher and school and college leader workforce that is already at breaking point as it continues to deal with the unprecedented and exceptional challenges of the pandemic.
The Union has called on the Government to commit to recruiting substantially more staff to provide an ambitious programme that will deliver the education recovery that all children and young people deserve. The NASUWT’s detailed policy positions on education recovery and updates for members are available on our Education Recovery Package pages.
In addition, the Union has pressed the DfE for assurance that all education recovery programmes will be designed and implemented in a way that respects the full range of teachers’ and school and college leaders’ statutory and contractual employment rights.
A teacher/pupil has tested positive via a lateral flow test. Should the school be taking any action? (England)
A positive lateral flow test (LFT) means that the person should self-isolate and take a PCR test.
If the test is negative, they can return to work, but if the test is positive, they must self-isolate for the requisite period.
Close contacts of the case will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Close contacts who are either children or fully vaccinated adults do not need to self-isolate, but should take a PCR test. Adults who are not fully vaccinated will need to self-isolate for ten days.
What should I do if a pupil in my class or a colleague I work with tests positive for Covid-19? (England)
Schools have been told not to disclose the identities of people testing positive for Covid-19.
However, the school should have contacted immediately on learning of a positive test the dedicated advice service for advice on the action to be taken. They will conduct a rapid risk assessment and identify the appropriate next steps. With support from the Health Protection Team (HPT), the school will identify the close contacts of the individual who has tested positive. Contact tracers will inform contacts that they need to self-isolate.
If you are aware of the person’s identity, and you believe you are a close contact (i.e. been closer than 2m for 15 minutes or closer than 1m for any length of time, other than transitory contact) but have not been told to self-isolate, you should alert the headteacher/principal, who should then take advice from the relevant authorities.
If your school has appropriate Covid-19 secure practices in place, all adults in the school should have been distancing and if the 2m distancing has been maintained with your colleague, then the risk is minimal. Teachers are advised, where possible, to maintain distancing with pupils, if distancing has not been maintained with the pupil in your class then you need to ensure that the school is aware of this.
If you have downloaded the NHS Test and Trace app, you may get an alert from this with advice on what action to take.
A pupil in my class was displaying symptoms of Covid-19 and was sent home. What should I do? (England)
The pupil should take a PCR test. If it is positive, NHS Test and Trace will contact the close contacts of the pupil.
Close contacts who are either children or fully vaccinated adults do not need to self-isolate, but should take a PCR test.
Adults who are not fully vaccinated will need to self-isolate for ten days.
What should happen if a pupil or staff member begins to exhibit Covid-19 symptoms whilst in school? (England)
The school should have clear procedures for this, detailed in the risk assessment. As a minimum, the NASUWT would expect any staff member to be sent home immediately, avoiding touching anything.
In the case of pupils, the individual concerned must be isolated in a well-ventilated room with supplies of tissues and a self-closing bin until collected.
If no room is available, they must be kept at least 2 metres from anyone else. Anyone who needs to attend to them must be provided with full personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask, apron and gloves, and preferably a visor.
Any rooms used by those who have exhibited symptoms must then be deep cleaned by suitably trained cleaners.
The parents of pupils with suspected symptoms must be informed to obtain a test for their child as soon as possible.
My school has told me to turn off the NHS Test and Trace App whilst I am in school. Is this right? (England)
Some schools appear to be instructing staff (and pupils) to turn off the app’s tracking function whilst in school to prevent it finding contacts and increasing the numbers of staff self-isolating.
This is a wholly inappropriate course of action, as the app is designed to complement existing public health measures.
The Government’s guidance encourages the use of the app in schools and states there are only three occasions where the tracking facility should be disabled whilst at work:
- when the phone is left in a locker etc.;
- where the person is shielded from others behind a plastic screen; or
- in the case of healthcare workers, none of which apply for teachers in schools.
Schools that insist on disabling the app are undermining efforts to reduce transmission and, while it may reduce the numbers self-isolating in the short term, it risks significantly increasing them in the longer term, as a larger outbreak is a distinct possibility.
Members who are instructed to disable the app in school should object to this and if the school continues to insist contact the NASUWT for further advice.
No. The use of the app is voluntary and employers cannot force employees to use it.
Employers can distribute information about the app and advise employees about the NHS COVID-19 app information website.
I have received contact from the NHS Test and Trace app which tells me that I have been a close contact of a confirmed case. Do I have to follow the information on the app or the advice from my employer? (England)
If you receive information on the app, you must follow the information you are given on the app. This is part of the Government’s public health Test and Trace Strategy and therefore takes priority over any local advice.
If you are fully vaccinated, you will be advised to take a PCR test but there is no need to self-isolate.
If you are not fully vaccinated you will be required to self-isolate for the requisite period. If your employer queries this, you are able to obtain an isolation note to give to your employer. This service is available on the NHS website, which sets out who is eligible to receive the isolation note and how to access one. There is also a facility for employers to check the validity of the isolation note.
While you are self-isolating, you should continue to receive your normal pay and you should make clear to your employer that you are available to work from home. There is no need to obtain a fit note or to go on sick leave as you are not sick.