The NASUWT recognises the importance of schools reopening to all children as soon as it is safe to do so.
The Union welcomes some of the developments within the DfE Guidance for Full Opening: Schools (the September guidance), particularly the greater emphasis placed on reminding employers of their legal obligations to provide a safe working environment.
However, the Union has also urged the Education Secretary to develop a coordinated national plan to deliver the full and safe reopening of all schools in September that addresses the many practical and logistical issues that have been raised by teachers and headteachers across the country.
The September guidance provides schools with additional information about the legal health and safety requirements that employers must meet, but it remains important that parents and teachers alike are assured that schools will, in practice, have in place arrangements that comply with statutory obligations.
The NASUWT has therefore called for the DfE to engage, at the earliest available opportunity, in dialogue with the Union, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Ofsted to ensure that appropriate inspection and enforcement arrangements are in place for September in order to safeguard pupils and the workforce and to promote public confidence that schools are fully prepared to reopen safely.
Key questions for the Education Secretary
With the majority of schools having only a matter of a few weeks before they close for the summer, teachers and headteachers need urgent clarification from the DfE on a range of matters if they are to appropriately, consistently and safely meet the expectations set out in the September guidance.
Below is a summary of the General Secretary's letter to the Education Secretary, which can be downloaded on the right/below.
Schools will need to consider how they will meet their statutory obligations to ensure the health and safety of teachers and pupils in relation to pupils who refuse to obey risk assessment provisions, given that the guidance states that spitting is not sufficient to prevent access.
The NASUWT believes that information sharing with schools is essential if schools are to make appropriately planned arrangements in the event of a local spike in COVID-19 infections, including arrangements for communicating with parents and pupils and seeks clarity on arrangements for inter-agency working.
The September guidance makes clear that schools will need additional and meticulous cleaning provision. This will require additional cleaning staff, appropriately trained in accordance with COSHH Regulations, to be available throughout the day and every school to be provided with additional funding to ensure that classrooms, gyms, communal and dining areas, kitchens, curriculum resources and equipment, toilets and recreational areas can be cleaned regularly and appropriately throughout the day.
It will be necessary for additional resources and equipment to be available in order that lessons are not delayed while essential items of equipment and other materials are thoroughly cleaned and checked for use by another group of pupils. Meticulous cleaning of equipment and resources will require additional cleaning resources.
Clarity on how schools will maintain appropriate continuity of on-site provision for pupils in the event of teacher absences is needed. The return to school cannot be predicated on the basis of teaching and learning led by support staff. The safest way to achieve such cover safely and appropriately is with the provision of additional teachers within schools, including the provision of long-term supply teacher assignments. Having such assignments in place prior to September would not only support plans for COVID-secure education bubbles to be formed and maintained, but would also ensure that cover teachers are familiar in advance with the school's COVID security arrangements.
It is widely accepted that children often have milder/no symptoms. Extending the emphasis given by the guidance that those with COVID-19 symptoms should not attend schools to include any flu-like symptoms, however mild, will prevent COVID-19 cases being overlooked or misdiagnosed as a cold or flu and aid in avoiding disruptive school-based outbreaks.
The NASUWT supports the concept of blended learning provision. However, it is not sustainable or reasonable to expect teachers and headteachers to organise, plan and deliver provision on site to pupils during the day whilst simultaneously providing remote learning support without additional resourcing and support. NASUWT members require clarity as to what additional resourcing will be available to support the provision of remote learning, including the cost of additional teachers, materials and technology to ensure equality of access for all pupils irrespective of household circumstances.
There are considerable practical concerns that members have raised about education bubbles as a strategy to reduce the risk of virus transmission, including:
- The logistical challenge of securing sufficient provision of home-school transport for pupils that does not result in mixing of pupils in different year group cohorts or mixing pupils from different schools.
- The logistical and additional financial implications associated with staggered start and finish times.
- The additional cost of providing suitable home-school transport for pupils, particularly in rural areas, and ensuring that such transport is cleaned appropriately to the level and frequency that schools will require.
- The additional funding to enable extra staff to be deployed to enable schools to implement staggered start and finish times for pupils.
The advice that pupils should sit facing forward may entail reconfiguring classrooms in order to maintain teaching and learning provision in rooms with fixed seating, such as science labs and technology rooms. Such remedial work would require additional financial assistance.
The September guidance fails to advise schools adequately on meeting their statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010. This is particularly distressing for teachers who are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), clinically vulnerable, and clinically extremely vulnerable, or living with vulnerable persons, those with underlying health conditions, or who are pregnant. The assumption in the guidance that all teachers will be able to safely return to the workplace ignores the need for additional staffing support to enable risks to these staff to be mitigated, for example to reduce pupil contact and ensure stringent two-metre social distancing.
In light of the experiences in the city of Leicester, the NASUWT believes that it is vital that clear information is provided about the practical steps that will be taken in the event of further local spikes in coronavirus transmission or a local lockdown. There are a number of practical questions from NASUWT members about how a local lockdown will apply to schools, including:
- How much notice can schools expect to receive?
- Who will provide schools with notice that lockdown will be required?
- What provision will schools be required to make for pupils on site?
- What provision will be made for pupils who are eligible for free school meals?
- What additional control measures will need to be applied in schools where they remain open to some children during the period of the local lockdown?
- What enforcement measures will be applied to schools that do not follow the local lockdown rules?
- Will additional coronavirus funding be reinstated to assist schools in the event of a local lockdown?
- What provision will be made on the lifting of lockdown controls, including phased reopening of schools within the lockdown area and the provision of coronavirus testing?
Further clarity is needed in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 within a school and the triggers for sending some or all pupils and staff home to self-isolate. We would also seek to make it clear that schools must always contact the health protection teams in the event of a positive case of COVID-19.
The NASUWT calls for the Government to extend priority COVID-19 testing to teachers.