Contractual issues/school opening
Risk assessment/PPE
Coronavirus symptoms/diagnosis

Contractual issues/school opening

I am planning to take my holiday abroad later in the year/early next year. What is my position on return to the UK if it results in me being unable to go to work at the start of term due to quarantine restrictions already in place? (England)

If you had not already booked a holiday prior to the announcement of a quarantine requirement on those returning from abroad and you do so now knowing that you may not be available to work in school at the start of the term, you could face significant difficulty with your employer, unless you have raised this with them in advance and been granted written permission to work from home during any period of quarantine on full pay. Your employer is under no obligation to agree this.

The NASUWT would advise you to seek the view of your employer before making any bookings which would lead to you being unable to return to the workplace at the start of the term/half-term.

If you make the booking without speaking to your employer, you should be aware that there may be pay and contractual implications if you are unable to be available for work during term time.

What should my school do if it receives pro forma letters setting out stipulations by parents/carers about our Covid-19 safety measures?

The NASUWT has become aware of advice for parents circulating on social media about schools' control measures in relation to COVID-19.

The advice often includes a model letter that parents are encouraged to send to schools about these control measures or other related matters confirming that they wish their children to be exempt from them. The letter makes a number of points that appear to be based on a misunderstanding of the control measures that schools are expected to have in place.

The letter includes requests that the school does not:

  • administer a COVID-19 vaccine to the sender's child/ren. At present, no COVID-19 vaccine is available. In addition, if one does become available, it is not yet clear how it will be distributed to school-age children. These will be matters for the Government to determine. Schools have established routines for the organisation of vaccines administered on school sites, including on issues related to parental consent, that should continue to be followed;
  • allow COVID-19 tests to be administered to the sender's child/ren on site. No school is expected or encouraged to allow testing to take place on site;
  • require the sender's child/ren to use hand sanitiser on the basis that it poses inherent health risks. The Government's guidance on control measures approves the use of hand sanitiser, although it is clear that its use should be supervised with young children. Hand sanitiser is often an important element in a school's approach to securing good hand hygiene alongside access to soap and running water. Where a child has a particular sensitivity to the use of hand sanitisers and has been medically advised not to use them, alternative hand hygiene measures should be in place;
  • use a forehead temperature sensor on the sender's child/ren. Public Health England's advice is clear that schools should not routinely subject pupils to temperature checks of any kind.
  • wish schools to participate in the NHS track and trace scheme by sending personal data to the NHS. The current arrangements for track and trace do not involve schools sending personal data to the NHS;
  • want schools to mandate the use of masks for their child/ren. Schools are not able to mandate the use of masks but can ask that they are worn by pupils in certain circumstances set out in the DfE's guidance. However, the wearing of masks can be mandated in some circumstances in schools in areas subject to local lockdowns;
  • detain a pupil without consent. Schools will have well-established procedures around the circumstances in which pupils can be detained. Schools do not need the consent of a parent to make use of detention as a behaviour management strategy although they are expected to ensure pupils' safety when detentions are used. This responsibility is usually discharged by informing parents that a detention has been issued;
  • subject the sender's child/ren to any measures for which parental consent has not been given. Schools should always be prepared to reassure parents that they will not act without parental consent in respect of any measure for which such consent must be obtained by law. 

Any member concerned by parental inquires received by a school on the issues covered above, should seek advice and support from the NASUWT.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the wider opening of schools, I am concerned that arrangements may be being made by Government and employers for opening schools during the summer. Are there any plans for this?

The NASUWT recognises fully what an anxious and uncertain time this is for members and that they are understandably concerned about whether plans are being made to open schools over the summer holiday.

No plans have been announced by the Government on this matter and the NASUWT is monitoring the situation very closely. The Union is concerned that, notwithstanding what the Government may or may not do, some individual employers may be making their own arrangements to open over the summer.

Members should contact the NASUWT immediately if any such proposals are put forward by your employer, specifically if those plans include teachers.

What will be the arrangements for opening schools in September 2020?

Governments across the UK are all considering their plans for the new academic year. The NASUWT is engaging in these discussions and will keep members updated on any developments.

My school’s plans for wider opening mean that I will be required to stay with a group of pupils all the time, including breaks and lunchtime. Is this acceptable?

Teachers are entitled to a reasonable lunch break and other breaks away from the pupils.

A number of schools, to minimise the risks of spreading the virus, are seeking to ensure that staff and pupils stay in specific closed groupings for all the time that they are on the school premises. That is an acceptable and sensible arrangement, providing that the staffing for each group has been calculated on the basis that each member of staff can have breaks, including lunch breaks, away from the pupils, in another area of the premises.

If teachers remain with pupils at all times, they are not having a break, regardless of how the time may be designated. If no provision has been made in the schools plans for breaks away from the pupils, then this should be raised with your headteacher with a request for the arrangements to be amended to allow breaks away from pupils.

If this is not addressed, contact the NASUWT for further advice.

My headteacher is planning for the wider opening of the school and is asking staff to complete a form to declare whether they are available to work and would be safe to work. Is this acceptable?

Employees have a legal entitlement to a safe working environment. Members should not sign anything which may compromise their rights by asking them to declare that they feel it is safe to return to work.

Whether it is safe to return to work can only be on the basis of the risk assessment the employer has carried out on the task they may require a member of staff to carry out and on the provisions being made in the workplace to safeguard health, safety and welfare.

In addition, the government guidance lists staff who may be at risk if they return to the workplace or pose a risk to others. This is the starting point for any headteacher when considering staff availability.

These staff are those who are:

  • self-isolating with symptoms of COVID-19;
  • in a household with someone who is self-isolating;
  • clinically extremely vulnerable individuals who are shielding having had a letter telling them they are in this group;
  • clinically vulnerable individuals who have underlying health conditions;
  • pregnant.

Schools should not be asking any of those groups to declare they are safe to return to work or available to work. They should be planning that these staff will continue to work from home.

Schools should also be risk assessing the return to work of any member of staff who shares a household with anyone who is in one of the clinically vulnerable categories.

It would not be unreasonable for a headteacher to ask staff to identify any barrier they feel there may be to being available to return to the workplace, for example, carer and childcare responsibilities; whether the member of staff would have to use public transport to get to work, thus exposing themselves and others to risks; or where a member of staff has a disability and what adjustments would be required in the workplace in the context of COVID-19.

Headteachers should be flexible and reasonable in their approach to staff, rather than pressing staff to come into work and putting them and others at risk.

There is no requirement or expectation in the Government and DfE Guidance that all staff must be in school. If a school cannot staff plans for the wider opening of schools safely then they cannot proceed with the plans.

If members are presented with any form to complete or sign and are uncomfortable with its contents, then seek advice from the NASUWT.

As a teacher who provides specialist support to pupils in different settings, should I be expected to carry out my duties in the usual way?

I am a peripatetic teacher and provide specialist support to pupils (e.g. with a visual impairment, hearing impairment, speech and language difficulties, an autistic spectrum condition) in different settings. This includes me visiting different schools and settings, and in some instances, visiting children at home. Should I be expected to carry out my duties in the usual way?

Your employer has a statutory duty to ensure your health and safety. This includes addressing health and safety matters arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. They must also ensure that they comply with equalities legislation and employment law.

Your employer should undertake a health and safety risk assessment in order to identify any potential risks arising from the work that you do. The risk assessment should take account of public health and advice guidelines relating to COVID-19.

Your employer must consult widely as part of the risk assessment. This must include consulting the workforce, and so workforce unions, the health and safety representative and other employers where you may work in order to ensure that health and safety measures are in place. This means that your employer must consult each of the schools and settings that you attend.

The employer should identify all risks and take action to mitigate those risks. This should be consistent with government advice which stresses the importance of minimising contact between different people and stopping all but essential contact.

In the case of peripatetic teachers, therefore, your employer should establish whether the work being carried out is essential. If it is essential, then the employer should consider whether it would be possible for you to carry out the work differently. For instance, could you undertake the work remotely using appropriate technology? Could somebody in the school, setting or household support you to deliver the support remotely? The employer may need to provide you and the child or setting with appropriate equipment and may need to provide training to enable the equipment to be used properly.

If it is absolutely essential for you to provide direct support to children by attending a school, setting or home, your employer must put in place measures to protect you and avoid transmission of COVID-19. This should include arrangements to maintain social distancing and minimise contact with different people. If it is not possible for you to carry out essential responsibilities and maintain the 2-metre social distancing rule, then NASUWT advice is that your employer should provide you with personal protective equipment (PPE). Your employer will also need to ensure that arrangements are in place to clean equipment and settings before and after use.

If you are classed as extremely clinically vulnerable, you should not work outside your home. Government advice is that people who are clinically vulnerable should also work from home. In these instances, your employer should make arrangements for you to undertake work from home. They must not expect you to undertake work outside your home, particularly work that involves visiting different settings.

Contact the NASUWT for advice if you have any concerns about your work arrangements, including concerns that your employer has not undertaken a risk assessment or taken action to mitigate risks and concerns raised.

Risk assessment/PPE

As a BME teacher, I asked for a risk assessment and it was decided that I should remain working from home. My headteacher and some of my colleagues are now implying that I am ‘choosing’ not to go into work and I feel very isolated. What should I do?

Given the scientific and medical evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on BME communities, you are understandably anxious and concerned and did exactly the right thing in asking for a risk assessment, the outcome of which was that you should remain working from home.

It is not only disappointing that your headteacher and some of your colleagues are reacting in this way, but it also is unacceptable.  

It is as a result of scientific and medical evidence relating to the impact of COVID-19 that you are in this position and no employer, manager or work colleague should be unsympathetic to actions being taken to protect the health and welfare of any member of staff when they have been identified as being at risk. By allowing such attitudes to go unchallenged, your employer is failing to discharge their legal duty of care for you and is putting at risk your health and wellbeing as a result of the increased stress and anxiety you are facing.

The NASUWT will have no hesitation in challenging employers who fail to tackle these unacceptable and discriminatory attitudes.

I wish to wear a face covering/mask at school, but my headteacher has said I must remove it. Can they do that?

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 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.

Additionally, the Health and Safety Executive has stated explicitly that ‘If people choose to wear face coverings in work, you [the employer] should support them.' Further guidance from the HSE on face masks and coverings can be found at HSE Face coverings and face masks during the coronavirus outbreak web page.

The NASUWT does not accept the argument put forward by some employers that pupils will feel intimidated by teachers wearing face coverings. Masks and face coverings are now extremely commonplace, being worn in supermarkets, on the street, and on public transport.

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, if the teacher wants to have a face covering, by the use of the transparent visors, which the school should then provide.

However, if members choose to wear a face mask or face covering they should be aware that it is considered only to be beneficial as a protection for others and not themselves and is no substitute for social distancing and other hygiene measures to control virus transmission.

Teachers who choose to wear a face mask or face covering, where it is not required by their job, must make their own provision and have a responsibility to ensure that:

  • they wash their hands in soap and hot water before putting on the mask and after removing it;
  • they do not touch their face while wearing the mask and if they do it will need to be replaced;
  • if it is removed while in the workplace, it must be immediately bagged and disposed of safely – at no time should it be left on any surface in the workplace;
  • if masks become damp during the day, they should be replaced;
  • masks/face coverings should be changed/replaced regularly.

My employer is using the risk assessment guidance produced by BAMEed. Am I able to engage in this process?

My employer is using the risk assessment guidance produced by BAMEed as I have expressed anxiety about returning to the workplace given the scientific and medical evidence showing the disproportionate adverse impact of COVID-19 on BME communities. Am I able to engage in this process?

The NASUWT is aware that a number of employers are now referring to the BAMEed risk assessment guidance in relation to their BME staff. The NASUWT supports the work of BAMEed and the guidance is a helpful tool, identifying a number of key issues to be considered.

It is not, however, an exhaustive list which will cover the circumstances of all individual members and some employers are using a points score system alongside it which again can disadvantage members.

NASUWT members are strongly advised, therefore, not to place their total reliance on their employer’s use of this tool and ensure that they follow, in full, the specific advice the Union has issued for our BME members.

This includes making sure that you have:

  • followed the NASUWT’s self-audit checklist and the actions advised in that checklist;
  • read the NASUWT guidance and other FAQs on risk assessments and are aware that risk assessments are the responsibility of the employer and therefore should not be co-authored or signed as being agreed by members to avoid compromising your legal rights and entitlements;
  • sought advice from the NASUWT directly if you have any concerns about your return to work in the context of COVID-19.

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 has asked that I sign to say I have received the school’s risk assessment of the plans for wider opening. Should I do this?

There is no problem with a headteacher wishing to be certain that all members of staff have received a copy of the risk assessment, providing that it is clearly printed on the document that staff are signing to indicate they have seen the document. We would expect phrases on the risk assessment  which say ‘ This signature is to confirm receipt of the risk assessment’ or ‘ I confirm that I have received a copy of the school’s risk assessment.’

My headteacher is requiring me to sign the risk assessment which has been produced for me. Can I do this?

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.’

Staff at the school where I work have been asked by the headteacher to sign that we agree with the risk assessment which has been carried out on the school’s plans for wider opening. Is this appropriate?

The risk assessment is the responsibility of the employer, not of any employee, including the headteacher.

Whilst employees should be consulted on the risk assessment and may feel that it addresses their issues of concern, signing it is neither necessary nor appropriate and could compromise your legal rights and entitlements should problems arise.

Will the NASUWT be signing risk assessments produced by the employer?

The NASUWT is seeking to engage with employers to consult on the risk assessments of their plans for wider opening of schools.

For maintained schools, the Union is engaging with local authorities and for MATs with trusts, as these overarching bodies are the employer and, therefore, have the legal responsibility for the risk assessments in the schools in the local authority or trust.

The NASUWT will advise employers about any deficiencies in the risk assessments to seek to have them addressed. The Union, however, cannot agree to a risk assessment, as that could compromise the legal rights and entitlements of members. It is for the Union to comment on the risk assessment and it is for the employer, who has the legal obligation, to ensure that the risk assessment is competent.

Can I send the risk assessment my school has produced on its plans for wider opening to the NASUWT for the Union to check and sign it off, so that I and other members in the school can feel reassured that the risk assessment is appropriate?

Members can always seek advice and support from the NASUWT on any issues of concern.

Where you and other members are concerned about your school’s risk assessment of the plans for wider opening:

  • make a note of all the issues in the risk assessment which cause you concern and raise these with your headteacher. Employees have a legal obligation to highlight directly to their employer any concerns they have about their health and safety at work;
  • if the response you receive does not address members’ concerns, then send the response from your headteacher, together with a list of members’ concerns about the risk assessment, and a copy of the risk assessment, to your NASUWT Local Secretary for further advice and support.

Coronavirus symptoms/diagnosis

What should happen if a pupil or staff member begins to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms whilst in school?

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, either through the online portal or by calling 119.

Staff with suspected symptoms must also be informed to obtain a test through the online portal for essential workers. There is guidance for this on the NASUWT website.

In addition to testing, those with symptoms should be advised to self-isolate for seven days. Their household members should self-isolate for 14 days.

The DfE web page Guidance for full opening school – The system of controls: protective measures has further guidance on this issue.

A pupil/staff member has tested positive for COVID 19. What should the school do?

Following a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, the rest of their class or group, including the staff, should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

The other household members of that wider class or group do not need to self-isolate unless the child, young person or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.

If any of the staff or pupils in the group have mixed with any other groups, this would also apply to those groups.

The DfE web page Guidance for full opening school – The system of controls: protective measures has further guidance on this issue.

Does the school need to close if there are positive cases?

Guidance from the Department for Education states that, as part of the national test and trace programme, if other cases are detected within the cohort or in the wider setting, Public Health England’s local health protection teams will conduct a rapid investigation of the school and will advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action to take.

In some cases, a larger number of other children and young people may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure - perhaps the whole class, site or year group.

Should the school inform staff of any positive cases?

The Department for Education has stated that schools should keep staff, parents (and pupils where appropriate) informed about cases in the school.

My school says it cannot tell us about cases in the school due to data protection rules. Is this true?

Recent guidance from the Information Commissioner on the issue of testing in the workplace is that schools do not need to name individuals and should not provide more information than is necessary.

Schools have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees and pupils. Data protection and the rights of data subjects do not prevent them from doing this and any positive cases should be disclosed.