Reviewed and updated February 2021

Remote learning
Testing
Risk assessment/PPE
Contractual issues
Coronavirus symptoms/diagnosis  

Remote learning

What learning provision should be made for pupils who are not attending school because they are self-isolating? (England)

If pupils are not in attendance at school in accordance with Government or local public health advice but are otherwise well enough to learn, then the DfE’s expectation is that they should be provided with opportunities to engage in remote learning.

This expectation is set out on page 13 of the DfE’s Emergency planning and response for education, childcare, and children’s social care settings (pdf) non-statutory guidance document. The Government expects that pupils should attend school or their usual setting to access education unless they are not well enough to do so. However, it is important to note that the previous statutory direction to schools to provide remote education for children absent for Covid-related reasons has now been withdrawn.

If a Covid-19 infection or any other illness is making a pupil unwell, then they would not be expected to participate in remote learning. Parents/carers should be expected to confirm this to schools using the normal pupil sickness absence notification process.

In all circumstances, the NASUWT’s expectation is that remote learning is provided in a way that is consistent with the Union’s advice on remote and blended learning.

The UK Health Security Agency has published guidance for schools on the management of infectious diseases other than Covid-19 that should be followed in all circumstances.

Testing

I have Covid symptoms/had a positive LFT but I cannot get a PCR. I am being pressured to attend school/college. What should I do? (England)

There is no longer any requirement to confirm a positive LFT with a PCR test and no legal requirement to self-isolate when you have a positive test.

However, Government guidance states the following:

Adults and children who test positive will continue to be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people. After 5 days, they may choose to take a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) [test] followed by another the next day - if both are negative, and they do not have a temperature, they can safely return to their normal routine.

Members should, therefore, not attend the workplace, especially if they are unwell.

I am being asked to return after five full days without having been able to get LFTs to undertake the day five and day six tests and obtain the successive negative results. What should I do? (England)

There is no longer any legal requirement to self-isolate.

If an individual is unable to obtain and evidence successive negative tests from days five and six but otherwise feels well, they can return to work.

Risk assessment/PPE

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.’

Contractual issues

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.

Can my employer insist that I have the vaccine or take any action against me if I refuse? (England)

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:

  1. it was required by the employer’s workplace policy;

  2. vaccination was necessary for an employee to do their job;

  3. 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.

Can the employer ask me to disclose whether I have had the vaccine? (England)

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.

Where do I stand if I do not wish to wear a face mask? (England)

Currently, there are no legal requirements for people to wear a face covering.

However, employers still 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.

What if there is a shortage of staff in some schools? (England)

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.

Unacceptable practices in this respect include collapsed classes, ‘split’ classes or multi-class assemblies other than timetabled collective worship.

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.

Coronavirus symptoms/diagnosis

A teacher/pupil has tested positive via a lateral flow test. Should the school be taking any action? (England)

Anyone having a positive lateral flow test (LFT) is recommended to self-isolate for the requisite period.

Routine contact tracing has now stopped and there is no requirement for close contacts, whether vaccinated or not, to self-isolate.

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.

Routine contact tracing has now ended and there is no requirement for close contacts to self-isolate, irrespective of their vaccination status.

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, they should be advised to self-isolate for the requisite period.

In addition, the DfE has confirmed that schools may reasonably refuse to admit a pupil in such circumstances, as now.

The NASUWT is pressing the DfE to confirm the position in its advice to the sector.

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, advised to take a PCR test and stay at home for the requisite period if it is positive.

In the case of pupils, the individual concerned should be isolated in a well-ventilated room with supplies of tissues and a self-closing bin until collected.

If no room is available, they should be kept at least two 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 and should be advised to isolate for the requisite period.