These FAQs were reviewed and updated in November.
PPE/face masks and coverings
Pupil risk assessments
Risk assessment measures
Curriculum and learning
In light of recent guidance, my headteacher has said that my travel arrangements over Christmas are now illegal and will have consequences for my employment. Can this be the case? (Scotland)
I have planned to travel to visit family overseas for Christmas, travelling in advance of Christmas and returning home before the schools are back. In light of recent guidance, my headteacher has said this is now illegal and will have consequences for my employment. Can this be the case?
The situation regarding Covid-19 transmission has raised the national alert level as a result of the increased risks of virus transmission.
Members should consider very carefully whether their travel is essential and taking account of the Government’s guidance, including the exceptions listed on the Scottish Government's Covid-19 guidance on travel and transport web page.
If you are currently in a level 3 area, you should not be travelling outwith that area without one of those exemptions applying.
Members will also need to discuss and agree any quarantine requirements with their employer in advance of any travel within the UK or elsewhere. See the SNCT Advice JS/20/81 Quarantine Arrangements (pdf).
The Union strongly advises members to familiarise themselves and follow up-to-date national guidance and restrictions.
I am being told I must support remote learning for pupils in my classes who are self-isolating? (Scotland)
Paragraph 178 of the guidance is clear that employers must make appropriate arrangements for remote learning to be in place for children and young people who cannot attend school in person due to Level 4 restrictions or self-isolating requirements:
178. It is important that appropriate arrangements for remote learning are in place for children and young people who cannot attend school in person due to shielding (or self-isolation) requirements. Further guidance on arrangements for remote learning is provided in the section on Contingency Planning.
Paragraph 255 states: ‘In making decisions on any such approaches, relevant staff should be fully engaged and there should be careful consideration of workload implications.’
The Scottish Government, in determining the full reopening of schools from 11th August 2020, chose to completely reject the blended learning model as an option, but rather to keep it as a contingency plan. Schools reopened fully and the vast majority of teachers returned to the workplace where prior to Covid-19 there was universal consensus amongst the Scottish Government, employers and unions that teacher workload was excessive and had to be reduced. This remains the case.
The SNCT Handbook sets out the 35-hour working week for teachers and the time allocated within it does not allow for supporting pupils who are both attending class and learning from home. The responsibility for supporting home learners in the current circumstances rests with the employer.
Employers have been provided with additional funding to support learning during the Covid-19 crisis. They should use this funding to either support home learning directly or to provide class teachers with additional time off the timetable to support home learners in your class.
If you are being pressured to undertake both physical and remote learning without additional time provided, please contact the NASUWT for advice.
I am in a Level 3 school. I do not want to wear a mask whilst teaching as it impacts on teaching and learning. I have heard the guidance is not statutory so I don’t have to? (Scotland)
The new guidance in Appendix A on page 59 clearly sets out when adults and pupils have to wear a face covering in addition to the provisions laid out that apply to all settings (with limited exceptions). The main change is a requirement for adults and pupils to wear a mask when teaching in the senior phase when an area is at Level 3 upwards. We appreciate that this will cause concern regarding the ability to deliver effective teaching and learning.
However, your safety and that of other members of the school community has to be the absolute priority. If you are unable to wear a face covering on medical or health grounds, you need to discuss this with SLT and reasonable adjustments agreed where necessary.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools is non-statutory guidance provided by the Scottish Government to employers. However, there is a clear expectation from the Scottish Government that employers will comply with the guidance. The non-statutory nature of the guidance does not change your need to comply with the guidance where it is implemented by the employer. The guidance around face coverings should be incorporated into updated risk assessments.
There is a legal and contractual duty on you to comply with health and safety measures at work. Deliberate or persistent failure to comply with health and safety measures is a potential disciplinary offence regardless of whether the guidance is statutory.
Paragraph 13 of the guidance appears to rule both of these scenarios out as a policy option, regardless of the science, other than on a case-by-case basis with Health Protection Scotland (HPS).
The NASUWT is strongly opposed to such a blinkered approach, which clearly prioritises political and economic objectives above the safety and wellbeing of our members and the wider school community and minimising transmission of the virus.
It also directly contradicts the commitments made by the Deputy First Minister in the original reopening schools guidance in August.
The NASUWT will continue to campaign for schools only to remain fully open when it is safe to do so and for blended learning with full social distancing to be implemented as soon as possible.
My school is now in level 3 or 4. Some pupils in the senior phase are still refusing to wear face masks and the headteacher says they are unable to do anything about this. What is the NASUWT position? (Scotland)
The Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools version 4 was issued on Friday 30th October. It generally strengthened requirements regarding the wearing of face masks and introduced a specific requirement for schools that are in a Level 3 or Level 4 area of the Scottish Government Strategic Framework. In addition to the advice on face coverings already in place, it stated:
Protection Level 3 –Enhanced protective measures
All staff and pupils should wear a face covering in classrooms during lessons in the senior phase.
However, despite very strong campaigning from the NASUWT, the guidance retains the following statement that non-one should be excluded solely for wearing a facemask:
131. No-one should be excluded from education solely on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering. As is usual, if there are any concerns about a child or young person behaving or acting in a way which doesn’t align with school policy or procedure, their behaviour or actions should be discussed with them to resolve those concerns as quickly as possible, with any further action taken in line with usual school policy or procedure. “Included, engaged and involved part 2: preventing and managing school exclusions”, provides national policy guidance on the use of early intervention and prevention to promote positive relationships and behaviour
In preparing for the return to school in August, the NASUWT advice to reps and members was to ensure that behaviour management/positive relationships policies were reviewed as part of the risk assessment process to ensure that deliberate non-compliance with Covid mitigation measures by pupils was addressed. It has been apparent that prior to the requirement to wear face coverings in Level 3, there were significant issues in a number of schools with pupils not complying with wearing face coverings in corridors. Our advice in that situation was for reps to request a meeting to review the risk assessment and to have clear mitigation measures in place, including use of the behaviour management policy.
The introduction of the requirement to wear face coverings in Level 3 has already seen examples of deliberate non-compliance by pupils. This is in a situation where the risk of Covid-19 has increased, as evidenced by the level 3 classification and the requirement to wear masks in the classroom. Where a pupil is refusing to wear a mask in a classroom and does not have an exemption, the following steps should be taken:
- The pupil should be reminded of their requirement to wear a mask to minimise risk to themselves and others.
- If they refuse to comply, the school behaviour management policy should be followed in terms of notifying management of an incident and assistance required in a classroom. Whilst awaiting the attendance of SLT, you should instruct the pupil to wait in a place which minimises risk to you and others - the back of the classroom, the corridor etc.
- The member of SLT should be advised that you have the right not to be placed at imminent danger from Covid-19 and the deliberate refusal of a pupil to wear a face covering places you in imminent danger. You should ask the member of SLT to either persuade the pupil to comply or to remove them from your class.
- If management refuses, you need to consider whether in the circumstances this places you, in your opinion, is clear and imminent danger. Only you can determine this and the situation will vary based on your own health circumstances, where the pupil is usually seated in the class and their response to your instructions. If you do believe that you are in imminent danger, you should contact the NASUWT immediately.
- You should complete an NASUWT incident reporting form, update the school rep and the school rep should ask for a meeting to update the risk assessment.
- If you are dissatisfied with the response of senior management, contact the NASUWT Scotland Centre.
I am approaching the third trimester of my pregnancy. What should I do? Do I have a right to work from home? (England/Scotland)
Any woman approaching the 28-week mark of her pregnancy should seek an updated and revised individual risk assessment to minimise risk in the workplace.
There is no automatic right or generic rule that a woman in the third trimester should work from home, however, Similarly, no generic policy can preclude or prejudice this being a measure which is deemed most appropriate to minimise risk to that woman. Each case should be risk assessed on an individual basis and it is the process of the risk assessment itself which will determine the measures required.
If you have any questions or require any support with this specifically, please speak to your workplace rep or email the MSA Team if you work in England or the Scotland National Centre if you work in Scotland.
Any member at any stage of their pregnancy should ask for an updated individual risk assessment where their workplace moves into Level 3 or Level 4 of the Scottish Government Framework.
My child has been sent home from school because another pupil has tested positive for Covid-19. I now have a problem with childcare. What can I do? (England/Scotland)
The NASUWT has produced advice notes for members in this position which set out the actions you can take:
- Covid-19 - Advice Note on Supporting Members with Childcare Responsibilities September 2020 (England) can be found on our England Covid-19 - Autumn Term page.
- Covid-19 - Advice Note on Supporting Members with Childcare Responsibilities September 2020 (Scotland) is on our Scotland Covid-19 - Autumn Term page.
A pupil in my class was displaying symptoms of Covid-19 and was sent home. What should I do? (England/Scotland)
There is no need to take any action until the outcome of the pupil’s test is known.
If the pupil tests positive, follow the advice in the FAQ below on what action to take if a pupil or colleague tests positive for Covid-19.
What should I do if a pupil in my class or a colleague I work with tests positive for Covid-19? (Scotland)
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 Scotland (HPS), 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 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 Protect-Scot NHS Test and Trace app, you may get an alert from this with advice on what action to take.
The NASUWT does not support requests from schools for the app to be disabled whilst at work. This has been checked with Health Protection Scotland who are clear that a school is not an environment where the app should be disabled.
My school is intending to take trainee teacher placements this year. Is this appropriate in the context of Covid-19 arrangements? (England/Scotland/Wales)
There is no reason for trainee teachers not to have their school placements as usual this year.
However, the ITT/ITE providers will clearly want to be assured through a risk assessment that the settings in which trainees are placed have taken all reasonable steps to safeguard the safety of the trainees.
Schools who wish to accept placements will need to carry out a risk assessment, in consultation with staff, particularly those who will be providing the in-class support, supervision and mentoring and ensure that there are measures put in place for the health and safety of all parties.
My school is continuing with classroom observations of teachers. Is this safe in the context of Covid-19? (England/Scotland/Wales)
Notwithstanding the issues relating to Covid-19, schools should have an agreed policy on classroom observation, agreed with the NASUWT, which incorporates the NASUWT’s policy on classroom observation.
In the context of Covid-19, schools should risk assess every activity, including classroom observation, to ensure that staff movement between different groups of pupils is kept to the absolute minimum to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
If classroom observation is deemed to be essential, then the risk assessment should highlight the measures in place to ensure, for example, social distancing by the person conducting the observation from the teacher being observed and between the observer and the pupils.
The number of observations and the number of teachers and pupil groups these cover should also be risk assessed.
A number of activities my school is planning to run, such as Parent Council meetings and open days, seem unnecessary at a time when everyone should be seeking to minimise the risks of Covid-19 transmission. What is the NASUWT view on this? (Scotland)
Whilst many schools have made great efforts to make their premises as Covid-19 secure as possible, all too often the measures put in place are being compromised by the continuation of some pre-Covid-19 activities, working and other practices.
The key tests schools should be applying to any activity are:
- Is it essential and if so why?
- Has it been risk assessed in consultation with staff and unions?
- Does it breach the teaching group arrangements and general Covid-19 arrangements in the school?
- Does it require teachers to come within 2m of any other adult?
- Will it breach the Government Covid-19 restrictions, including the rules on social contacts?
Where members have concerns about the necessity and safety of any activity in the context of Covid-19, they should raise this with their headteacher/principal and seek advice from the NASUWT if concerns remain.
As part of its arrangements to seek to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, my school requires staff to keep classroom doors and windows open. As the weather becomes colder this may not be a reasonable option. What does the NASUWT advise?
Even before the issues of Covid-19 arose, schools were required to ensure that classrooms were ventilated appropriately. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which apply to England, Wales and Scotland and The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 state that:
‘Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air.’
They also state that:
‘Workers should not be exposed to uncomfortable draughts.’
Now that the autumn term has started, schools should be planning how they intend to meet the regulatory requirements regarding ventilation whist ensuring that classrooms do not fall below the minimum required temperatures in which staff and pupils can be expected to work. These temperatures are:
|Workplace where strenuous physical effort is required||13|
|Northern Ireland||General classroom||18|
|Gyms/PE halls/Dance halls||15|
|Multi-use halls (secondary)||18, with the ability to easily adjust to 15|
|Multi-use hall (Primary)||18|
|Scotland**||Normal teaching space, including dining areas, and medical rooms, changing rooms etc.||18.5|
|Cloakrooms and corridors; gymnasia||13|
|Areas with higher than normal physical activity||15|
*There are no specific school temperature standards in England. These are suggested minimum temperatures.
** The Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools version 4 sets out further detail on ventilation and temperature requirements over the winter months.
Schools will need to consider the options available to them if they do not have in place effective heating and ventilation systems. They may for example have to increase the heating of rooms and possibly consider deploying additional safe, portable electric heaters. They may have to consider hiring or purchasing air purifiers in place of the ventilation through windows and doors. What is not an option is for employers to expect staff to trade off the safety measure of effective ventilation against a comfortable working temperature.
Should sprays be used for wiping down workstations? If so, what should the protocol be? Who should clean pupils' desks? (Scotland)
The Government guidance does stipulate that movement of children, young people and staff between classrooms should be minimised wherever possible but that where this cannot be avoided, the provision of appropriate cleaning supplies to enable them to wipe down their own desk/chair/surfaces before leaving and, especially, on entering the room should be considered as part of overall hygiene strategies for secondary schools.
The NASUWT is clear that cleaning duties should be undertaken by trained cleaning staff. Cleaning staff must be on duty during the day to ensure regular disinfection takes place.
Teachers have not received the relevant training to undertake cleaning using industrial chemicals. However, disinfectant wipes may be available for those who wish to use them for their own reassurance.
What is considered an appropriate cleaning supply should be covered in the risk assessment.
The HSE advise that the use of usual cleaning products is effective. Disinfectants for use on surfaces are regulated as biocidal products in the UK under the Biocidal Product Regulations (BPR) and must comply with relevant legislation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and Mixtures (CLP). The responsibility for ensuring that any particular product provided to teachers or pupils is suitable and appropriate for use lies with the employer and should be covered in the risk assessment.
If your headteacher advises that you will be provided with sprays to be used on desks and chairs members must:
- check that the spray is clearly labelled with the content, the circumstances in which it can be used and the potential side effects;
- request a copy of the risk assessment which has been undertaken on the spray;
- check whether the employer has undertaken an assessment of the consequences of regular exposure to the spray;
- request written guidance on its use and storage;
- contact the NASUWT immediately if they have any concerns.
There should be no expectation that you must use the spray.
A risk assessment must be undertaken which identifies how equipment will be cleaned. Cleaning keyboards is a specialist task and therefore it would not be suitable to ask teachers or pupils to undertake this task.
Should members be agreeing to have their non-class contact on a fortnightly basis rather than weekly as a suggested strategy for minimising contact of groupings? (Scotland)
The flexibility for this approach is contained with the SNCT Handbook.
The Union suggests that consent should not be unreasonably withheld to facilitate short-term local agreements allowing changes to non-class contact time allocation, as set out in Appendix 2.17, as a support mechanism for teachers employed to undertake cover and to avoid them having unnecessary contact across multiple groups which would be contrary to the Scottish Government return to school guidance.
While recognising that practical, 'hands-on' learning and activities, experiments and investigations are an important part of the curriculum across all subject areas, practitioners may need to adapt their approaches to enable learners to carry out these activities in a safe way.
SSERC has produced guidance on carrying out practical work in Sciences and Technologies for early, primary and secondary levels, including links to helpful resources. Education Scotland has prepared guidance on safe practice in physical education and guidance on safe practice in home economics both of which will be available from the National Improvement Hub once published.
Ultimately, if it is not safe to carry out practical work, then this work should not be undertaken.
This is not the job of a teacher. The process for cleaning toys and other teaching equipment should be specified in the school risk assessment.
The Union suggests that cleaning staff would be best suited to undertaking this responsibility. Another option may be some form of clean-as-you-go system where pupils are provided with wipes to clean items they have used. However, this is going to be age/ability-dependent and may not be practical.
With regard to jotters, the Scottish Government guidance is not explicit, other than to specify the process for quarantining of library books. A full assessment would need to be undertaken of the risks involved in collecting in jotters. If a system can be put in place which allows jotters to be quarantined or for scans or pictures of work to be forwarded this would be preferable.
When marking pupils’ work, teachers may wish to ensure that they:
- have hand sanitiser available;
- avoid touching their faces while marking; and
- wipe the covers of the books where possible with disinfectant wipes.
Activities such as marking should be set out in the school’s risk assessment of that activity.
Can the NASUWT give advice on the minimum level of cleaning for a secondary school classroom being used by multiple classes throughout the day? (Scotland)
The Government Guidance on cleaning is contained in paragraphs 27-40.
The needs in schools will vary according to the activities, the layout of the school the age of the pupils, etc. and so it is not possible to provide a one-size-fits-all recommendation on levels of cleaning.
The NASUWT insists that the plans for cleaning must be adequate and clear in the risk assessment and must not rely on persons not employed as cleaners undertaking the work. (An exception to this might be wiping down your own personal workstation before and after use for your own reassurance and comfort/)
The Government guidance states that movement across classrooms should be minimised.
Where this is not entirely avoidable, e.g. where a teacher is covering a class or does not have their own designated classroom/workstation, extreme caution must be taken and the workstations must be wiped down before and after each use. Consideration could be given to providing such teachers with their own keyboard for use in different classrooms.
The procedures for moving between classrooms must be included in an individualised risk assessment for any vulnerable member of staff to determine if it is appropriate for them to be changing workspaces.
Can school staff bases (places where staff will eat and leave their belongings) be used by pupils? (Scotland)
It is important for the mental health and wellbeing of staff that there is an appropriate rest area where they can go to have a break.
Staff bases should have been risk assessed for use by staff and should not be accessed by pupils unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which case this should be included in the risk assessment.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that, 'Effective and suitable provision shall be made to ensure that every enclosed workplace is ventilated by a sufficient quantity of fresh or purified air', so even ignoring the Covid situation, rooms without a form of ventilation should not be used, with the possible exception of storage rooms, etc.
The Covid situation makes this even more vital as effective ventilation is one of the key strategies for preventing virus transmission.
Should rooms without windows or other ventilation be used as staff bases for eating, etc? (Scotland)
The same rules apply as would apply to classrooms - such areas not only lack ventilation, but also lack natural light.
Essentially, the same rules as classrooms apply - there must be adequate ventilation.
There is a wider issue with music instructors in that they will be limited to what they can reasonably do, especially in small rooms, as singing and any kind of wind/brass instrument should not be used, but any activity should be risk assessed.
Where a pupil is exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, they will be required to self-isolate. This will be recorded as the reason for their absence.
Where Covid-19 cases are confirmed, staff should be informed of the actions the school has taken with regard to this.
Should members expect all rooms that the suspected case has occupied during that day or even previous days be quarantined until cleaned? (Scotland)
Advice on cleaning of premises after a person who potentially has Covid-19 has left the school premises can be found in the Health Protection Scotland Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings - see section 2.5.
Once a possible case has left the premises, the immediate area occupied by the individual, e.g. desk space, should be cleaned with detergent to remove organic matter such as dust or body fluids, then a disinfectant to kill pathogens. This should include any potentially contaminated high-contact areas such as door handles, telephones and grab rails. Once this process has been completed, the area can be put back into use.
Any public areas where a symptomatic or Covid-19 diagnosed individual has only passed through (spent minimal time in), e.g. corridors, and which are not visibly contaminated with any body fluids, do not need to be further decontaminated beyond routine cleaning processes.
Assist FM has also produced complementary guidance on cleaning in schools.
Any individuals should wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell.
Changeovers should have been risk assessed, including individual risk assessments for teachers who are vulnerable. Individual risk assessments may indicate that such duties are not appropriate for some staff to undertake due to personal vulnerabilities.
All staff have a responsibility to follow the measures put in by the employer and to safeguard theirs and others’ health and safety at work. Part of this responsibility covers reporting any failure to comply with a health and safety requirement, whether adult or pupil.
Any breach should be challenged and reported to the headteacher immediately. The Union has developed an incident report form which you can access on our Scotland Autumn Term page.
Should schools have some kind of check or supervision in place to ensure that hand cleaning is taking place? (Scotland)
The Scottish Government guidance requires schools to support pupils to follow hand hygiene regimes. Some schools may have a system for checking in place, depending on the age and stage of the pupils involved. The school should be reminding all parents and pupils of their responsibilities to follow protective measures.
All schools should have in place a system to ensure compliance with the provisions in their risk assessments.
A primary teacher has been told to guide infants from parents into school if they are reluctant and needing that more intimate support. Is that reasonable? (Scotland)
If it means that the physical distance of 2 metres cannot be sustained, PPE must be provided. A risk assessment for this specific task should also exist.
The Scottish Government Guidance for the reopening of schools states that 2m between adults and pupils should be maintained wherever possible. It does acknowledge that this will not always be possible with the younger age groups, but also that from the emerging evidence transmission from younger children is believed to be lower.
So, in scenarios where it is not possible to maintain social distancing, this should be risk assessed and the risk assessment should identify the control measures. This might include the use of PPE as the final factor to help mitigate the risk.
It might also place requirements on parents, such that a parent of a reluctant child must wear a mask where it is likely that 2m distance from staff will not be maintained. Other factors may include making sure the interaction takes place outside as this is believed to reduce risk of transmission and is time-limited, as again this will be a factor.
Can a pupil deliberately coughing in the face of a teacher or similar be classed as violence in the workplace? (Scotland)
If a member believes a young person is trying to spread Covid-19 or threaten them using coughing it needs to be dealt with as a very serious matter. Any behaviour of this nature should immediately be reported to the headteacher.
The Union considers that behaviour management practices and policies have to be reviewed in light of Covid-19, i.e. to take very seriously any non-compliance with the health and safety measures implemented to keep staff and pupils safe.
As with all violent incidents, a member has the prerogative to contact the police, especially if they believe the motivation to have been to cause harm/distress.
Timetables with staggered lunches for pupils are being implemented with no consultation. Is there provision for moving staff lunches and breaks without consultation? (Scotland)
The structure of the day is for pupils, e.g. the bells ring from start to finish to indicate the structure of the pupil day.
The SNCT Handbook is completely silent on breaks and lunches. While teachers may have become used to having those specific times, they are not a contractual entitlement. The statutory minimum entitlement is at least a 20-minute break for every 6 hours of continuous work would apply. However, there should be consultation with staff about any changes made to any of the working routines and break times before a change is implemented.
Consideration also needs to be given to the purpose of the change. If it is to genuinely reduce risk and implement control measures, it would be very difficult to oppose.
Some local authorities have told head teachers that they do not need to adhere to the 'outdoor' part of the following article in the guidance. I'm not sure if any schools are actually complying? Is this OK? (Scotland)
Adequate facilities should be available for hand hygiene, including hand-washing facilities that are adequately stocked or have alcohol-based hand rub at key areas. Outdoor hand basins or hand sanitisers should be available at entry/exit points, to allow all building users to wash/sanitise their hands as they enter and leave the building at pick-up and drop-off time and at break and lunch times.
Help should be given to those children and young people who struggle to wash their hands independently. Over time, it is possible that children and young people will become complacent about hand hygiene. Schools should involve them in making plans to ensure continued rigour.
The guidance states that outdoor hand basins or hand sanitisers should be available at entry and exit points - in the context of the guidance this means must. This requirement is not an optional extra. It also acts as a fundamental reminder to all pupils as they enter the premises of the new rules and procedures which will apply.
Whilst outdoor hand basins may not be a practical option for some schools there should be no problem with having a sanitiser station outside the entrances.
Bins in the classroom are open top and being used for tissues for blowing noses, etc. and some material for cleaning. Should these bins be closed or emptied on a more regular basis? (Scotland)
What about bins in open spaces in schools and playgrounds. Is there any extra consideration to be given to these?
All bins for tissue waste must be emptied regularly - this is explicitly set out in the Government guidance. Assist FM guidance stipulates that any cleaning waste must be double-bagged and stored securely for 72 hours before disposal. Where possible, separate bins for PPE disposal should be identified.
This should be covered in the risk assessment.
In my primary school, the senior management team are allowing parents into playground. Should this be stopped in present circumstances? (Scotland)
This should be considered as part of the school risk assessment.
There may be some arguments for carers of the lower years of primary (P1/P2) being allowed in for pick-up provided the parents have been clearly informed of where, when and how pick-up can safely take place and are clear of the need to maintain social distancing.
Yes - all adult visitors to any school site should be wearing a face covering.
This is provided for in the most recent Government Guidance in October 2020:
'122. Face coverings should be worn by parents and other visitors to all school sites (whether entering the building or otherwise), including parents at drop-off and pick-up.'
Government advice on PPE appears in paragraphs 105-111 of the Scottish Government guidance, which is available at Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on reducing the risks in schools.
Where staff are asked to physically support, assist or restrain pupils, schools should provide staff with appropriate protective clothing, gloves and other protective equipment.
Any teacher who wishes to wear a face covering or face mask should be allowed to do so and it is unreasonable for an employer to prevent them from doing so.
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 this can be overcome with the use of transparent face coverings which, if they are a requirement for the pupil’s benefit, should be provided by the employer.
Members who choose to wear a face mask or face covering at all times 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 at all times 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 safely disposed of - 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.
The latest guidance from the Sottish Government is available at (CHECK LINK)
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools. Paragraph 183 specifically advises on 'Support for children and young people with Additional Support Needs'. Within this paragraph, it says:
'Guidance on supporting children and young people with additional support needs is published by the Scottish Government.'
In the first instance, risk assessments for all pupils must be undertaken or reviewed. Staff and unions should be consulted on the risk assessment.
In addition to workplace and individual risk assessments, schools have been asked to identify what personalised support will be in place to meet the physical and emotional needs of returning children with ASN.
For further information, consult the Scottish Government web page Coronavirus (COVID-19): Support for Continuity in Learning.
When some children in mainstream settings spit/bite or wilfully won’t follow social distancing, what can we do to stay safe? (Scotland)
Existing individual risk assessments for pupils should be reviewed and shared with staff. Risk assessments for pupils who are too young or unable to understand social distancing requirements must be carried out.
The behaviour policy must also be reviewed to take into account Covid-19, specifically to include exclusion for pupils who deliberately put others at risk (e.g. coughing or spitting at others) and pupils who will not (as opposed to cannot) comply with social distancing.
The first step must always be to undertake a risk assessment which should cover the use of PPE in such circumstances.
Yes. Existing risk assessments should be reviewed for ASN and complex ASN.
There should be consultation with staff and unions on the risk assessments.
After a risk assessment, it was decided that as a Black teacher I should work from home. Some of my colleagues are now implying that I have ‘chosen’ not to go into work and I feel very isolated. What should I do? (England/Scotland)
As a Black 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 Black 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 at all times, but my headteacher has said I must remove it. Can they do that? (Scotland)
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.’
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.
Which pupils should receive risk assessments? Black pupils? Pupils living with vulnerable people? (Scotland)
In addition to completing and reviewing risk assessments for pupils with ASN, employers should also complete an equality impact assessment for Black and minority ethnic (Black) pupils.
The Scottish Government has published details of shielding advice at Coronavirus (COVID-19): shielding advice and support, which includes advice on support for children and young people.
Further guidance is contained in the Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term August 2020 (paras110-119).
In accordance with the Scottish Government’s advice, all schools and colleges should ensure that they provide access to soap and hot water for washing. Hand sanitisers may also be used in many schools, although regular and effective handwashing is the best way to protect against coronavirus.
Effective hand washing has been underlined as a critical measure by the Scottish Government at Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools (paragraph 28).
Where teachers are moving classrooms throughout a school day, rather than pupils moving, what can teachers expect about cleaning of tables/chairs/PC/mouse during changeover? (Scotland)
Individual schools must set out clearly the frequency of cleaning planned as part of the site risk assessment and protections must be put in place to avoid multiple staff using the same equipment and desk.
The NASUWT believes that as a minimum there should be hand sanitiser provided on every teacher’s desk for their use and that pupils should have access to hand sanitiser before they enter the classroom.
Teachers moving between groups of pupils also risk the spread of the virus between those groups and moving should be avoided if at all possible. There should be a specific risk assessment of this process and the school needs to be able to demonstrate why the movement of teachers around the school is necessary.
Cleaning duties should be undertaken by trained cleaning staff. Cleaning staff must be on duty during the day to ensure that regular and necessary cleaning takes place.
Teachers should not be undertaking cleaning. Teachers are neither trained nor risk assessed for carrying out these activities.
Some schools are operating a clean-as-you-go policy and have an expectation that teachers should spray desks and chairs before each new group of pupils enters a classroom. There should be no obligation placed on teachers to do this and members are advised that if they are provided with sprays to use, to check that the spray is clearly marked with the chemical content, the terms and circumstances of its use and the conditions in which it should be stored, and any potential side effects. Members should also ask to see the employer’s risk assessment of the cleaning spray being provided.
Staff not employed as cleaners should not be pressured to undertake cleaning.
If in any doubt, contact should be made with the NASUWT immediately.
There should be a complete clean of the premises either at the beginning or at the end of the day when staff and pupils have left the premises.
There should then be regular wipe downs of touchable surfaces during the day. The number of times will be in line with the risk assessments for the activities being undertaken.
Where a school/college is unable to meet hygiene and cleanliness standards, the NASUWT would expect the school/college to close.
As cleaners are not going to clean the toilets after each teacher has used it, I have been told we will have to use spray after we use it. Is this acceptable? (Scotland)
As outlined above, teachers should not be asked to undertake cleaning responsibilities.
However, disinfectant wipes, etc. should be available for those who wish to use them for their own reassurance.
Who is responsible for cleaning ICT equipment? In the past, I have cleaned netbooks as no one else including cleaners would take responsibility. (Scotland)
Schools should make clear their arrangements for sanitising ICT equipment as part of the risk assessment. The school must identify the staff responsible for this, as it is a key part of controlling virus transmission.
Can I insist on a record being identified in toilets of what has been cleaned and how regularly throughout the day? (Scotland)
The frequency of cleaning should be set out within the site risk assessment. The risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and it is reasonable to ask for a record to be kept to ensure any review can be well founded.
Schools have been encouraged to consider a variety of new locations as classrooms.
Each considered location would, however, require its suitability for the activity to be undertaken to be considered via a risk assessment before it could be adopted.
A greater issue will be staffing these additional areas - if a school is using its existing rooms to capacity, it is likely it will also be using its teaching staff to capacity. Schools must not use support staff to teach pupils.
If a hall is being used and there are three classes due to be in there, can this be safe? (Scotland)
The first step is to ensure a risk assessment is undertaken.
This will need to consider, for example, the size of the room, the number of pupils, ventilation, whether there would be shared touch surfaces, and the degree of traffic in the hall, in the context of the school’s overarching plan to ensure appropriate social distancing is maintained.
Aside from the considerations around COVID-19, the educational impact should also be considered.
I believe airing rooms out after pupils have been in the class is advised. What is the guidance on rooms with no windows? Should these be avoided as viable classrooms? (Scotland)
Rooms without a window may not be suitable in the event of fire and they may also not provide adequate ventilation: both of these considerations are set out in the HSE classroom checklist (pdf).
These factors must be considered in any risk assessment, in addition to Covid-19-related considerations.
Use of rooms with no ventilation is also prohibited under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Is it reasonable to refuse any adaptation to the school building which would have a cost? (Scotland)
If it is a proportionate adaptation required to maintain safety, then there is an argument that cost should not be a bar to implementation.
The Scottish Government has confirmed that it will consider any genuine resource issue a local authority identifies.
In my school, there are fire doors that my headteacher says are not fire doors because they have windows in them, although they have blue signs that state fire door. Can these be propped open? (Scotland)
Under no circumstances should fire doors be propped open.
If the door is marked as a fire door, it should be treated as such. The test of whether a door is a fire door does not relate to whether there are windows - it is usually judged by the weight and location of the door and the closure mechanism.
If there is any doubt about whether a door is a fire door or not, it should not be propped open.
I am concerned that my employer is not taking measures to protect my health and safety at work. (Scotland)
The Scottish Government's guidance for employers states that: ‘Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of local authorities with regard to health and safety, public health and their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. Local authorities must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, they must have regard to the advice relating to coronavirus from the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland.'
The NASUWT is clear that no teacher should be expected to go into a school that is not safe and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so, we will be continuing to support and advise members on that basis.
Members should raise with their employer in writing any concerns they have about their health and safety in the workplace and then contact the NASUWT for further advice if these issues are not immediately addressed.
Where schools are allowing pupils to have break/lunch in classrooms, who should be expected to supervise pupils during this time? (Scotland)
Supervising pupils during lunch time or break is not part of a teacher’s contractual duties. While teachers may volunteer to undertake such tasks, this cannot be required, unless it is agreed to use time in the ‘other’ time of the WTA. Reps should consider this if they believe it is a genuine C19 risk mitigation and time is not taken from an activity which benefits the teacher. Where a teacher has volunteered, this would be counted as ‘class contact’ time.
Schools should ensure their risk assessment covers the provision of appropriate breaks for teachers away from the pupils.
What should I do where my headteacher says it is impossible to ‘social distance pupils’ and that all that can be done is to ‘advise and try to enforce while keeping ourselves safe’? (Scotland)
The school’s behaviour policy should be reviewed to ensure that it is clear what action will be taken against pupils who fail to follow instructions and requirements relating to social distancing.
The school has a responsibility to enforce the measures that it has put into its risk assessment and if these cannot be maintained, then this is a failure to address the hazard.
NASUWT members should contact the Union for advice where problems arise in maintaining social distancing.
Some of our pupils are ‘runners’. What protections can I put in place for them and the staff? (Scotland)
It is important that pupils who are known to run out of class have their own individual risk assessment and also that this is factored into the school risk assessment.
I have been told children cannot socially distance in P1 and P2 due to a play-based approach. Is this correct? (Scotland)
While the same measures for older children will not be appropriate for younger children, this does not mean that alternative public health measures should not be considered, as is anticipated in the national guidelines.
It is recognised that it is not possible to fully social distance within education and childcare settings with very young children and with children who have complex needs or disabilities.
Staff should implement the measures outlined in the Scottish Government’s guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term (paragraphs 43 and 63) or following discussion and agreement with staff the reopening early learning and childcare services guidance, whilst ensuring children are kept safe and well-cared for within their settings.
It has been recommended that Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) support the sharing of best practice across authorities. What will be suitable for one workplace may not, however, transfer over to another due to differences in pupil numbers, staff, location and physical setting, for example.
Whatever arrangements are made, the key issue is that they must be risk assessed by a competent person and staff and unions should be consulted on the risk assessment.
Where we have created school-based groups, should the risk assessment explicitly state that parents and carers have a responsibility to agree to and support this grouping and inform us of any relevant information from home? (Scotland)
The NASUWT is clear that there must be clear plans for notifying and advising parents and pupils of the requirements for ensuring health and safety. This is supported by Government advice.
What staff can encourage parents to do:
- inform parents and communities about the measures that they are taking and get their help to implement them;
- talk to their children about coronavirus (Covid-19), physical distancing and hand washing;
- follow guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection;
- do not gather at entrances or in playgrounds and model social distancing so that their children learn good practice;
- follow strictly the public health and school guidance regarding children who display symptoms of Covid-19, test positive for Covid-19 or are in a household with someone who is self-isolating/or tested positive;
- seek to have their children tested before they return them to school if they have been showing symptoms of Covid-19.
My headteacher has sent me a generic risk assessment and workplace assessment asking for approval and mentioning documents to be ‘signed off’. What are my responsibilities as an NASUWT member or Workplace Representative? (Scotland)
Even if you are satisfied with the contents of a risk assessment, it is essential, in order to protect members’ legal rights and entitlements individually and collectively, that the NASUWT does not enter into any formal agreement on the risk assessment by, for example, confirming agreement in writing in a letter or in minutes or any meeting or signing the risk assessment or any other document in any way that signifies agreement.
If you have no concerns to raise on a risk assessment, or the concerns you have raised have been addressed by the employer, simply note receipt of the risk assessment.
Risk assessments are the employer’s documents and they must take full responsibility for the risk assessment and its implementation.
In addition, it should be noted that risk assessments are never ‘signed off’ as completed. Risk assessments are documents which must be regularly reviewed and adapted as necessary.
This also applies where members have an individual risk assessment - it should never be ‘signed off&srquo; by the individual.
Staggering breaks is one measure which might be identified as a supportive measure within a school’s risk assessment of the management of pupils and staff throughout the day.
Our school aims to place hand sanitiser outside rooms rather than wall mounting them which will narrow some corridors. Will this be acceptable? (Scotland)
The location of the provision of hand sanitisers should be part of the risk assessment.
It is essential to ensure that it is available and wall mounting assists with this. However, consideration will need to be given in the risk assessment as to how this can be managed.
Two documents have been issued by the Scottish Government:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Curriculum for Excellence in the Recovery Phase
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Support for Continuity in Learning - Blended Learning
There is little detail in this guidance and it will be for schools and local authorities to determine how any local model will work.
The NASUWT is represented on the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) and welcomes feedback from members to support ongoing curricular discussions at the CAB.
This is a critical question which Representatives should be asking.
Scottish Schools Education Research Centre (SSERC) has produced advice which may inform such discussions at school and local authority level.
I am concerned about class capacity for practical subjects. With ten pupils per room, there will be no way to do practicals. (Scotland)
It is really important that teachers are able to input into Local Phasing Delivery Plans and that concerns regarding practicals are highlighted.
Fundamentally, however, staff and pupil safety is paramount and if some activities are unable to be undertaken safely, then they cannot take place.
The risk assessment indicates that a mask should be worn when undertaking certain tasks, including dealing with suspected cases. Should the mask comply with any standards? (Scotland)
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. Members should bear this in mind when undertaking tasks where a mask is required.
Specific guidance relating to PPE is contained within the Government guidance for education and childcare settings, and anyone requiring the use of specific PPE should be given training in how to use it safely.
The Government’s Test and Protect strategy outlines the process to follow should anyone present with symptoms in the workplace. They are expected to self-isolate at home for 10 days and a test should be booked immediately through NHS Inform.
If you are identified through the tracing process as having had contact with someone who has the symptoms, you will also be expected to self-isolate at home. If you then develop any symptoms, you will need to book a test immediately.
Teachers, nursery and school staff can now be tested for Covid-19 on demand if they are concerned they have been at risk from infection, even if they show no symptoms. The step has been taken to provide additional reassurance to teachers, nursery and other staff as children and young people return to the classroom and to early learning.
The details of the science for education settings can be seen on the Scottish Government's web page Coronavirus (COVID-19): schools, early learning and childcare settings - scientific evidence.
I am a teacher from a black and minority ethnic (Black) background and I'm concerned that I am therefore at a significantly higher risk of contracting Covid-19. What support can I expect from my employer and my Union? (Scotland)
The top priority for the NASUWT is to protect members’ health, safety and welfare. There is a requirement for the employer to assess the risk of Covid-19 in relation to Black staff.
The top priority for the NASUWT is to protect members’ health, safety and welfare. There is a requirement for the employer to assess the risk of Covid-19 in relation to Black staff.
You should already have received an individual risk assessment. This needs to be regularly reviewed, particularly if there are any substantive changes, such as your local authority area moving up a level.
If you do not receive a response or are not satisfied with any response you do get, you should email the NASUWT Scotland Centre for further advice and support.
The NASUWT continues to campaign for Black members to be provided with a safe working environment including working from home where this cannot be met in the school.