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Do all staff need to be at school during lockdown?

In our opinion No. 

The aim of the government’s decision which is now law, is to reduce contacts in order to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. One of the main reasons for this decision is that schools were acting as vectors and spreading the virus. This in turn was and is placing massive pressures on the NHS, which is at breaking point. Hence protecting lives and protecting the NHS is the number one priority. The government guidance during this period of lockdown is for people to work from home unless it is not possible to do so.

The government guidance also states that public sector employees working in essential services, including childcare or education, should continue to go into work. We believe that this means that schools and colleges will need to ensure they have sufficient staff on-site to operate safely and support the on-site provision for the children of critical workers and vulnerable pupils and students but that all other staff should work from home wherever possible.

The safest and fairest way for staffing provision for vulnerable pupils and children of critical workers would be for employers to implement a rota system.  These would operate across the various groups of staff within schools, teachers, classroom-based support staff, office-based support staff, site staff etc, also ensuring that there is sufficient safeguarding, first aid and cleaning provision. 

The Prime Minister announced on 4th January that schools and colleges will remain open to vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers only.  All other pupils and students are to learn remotely. The government definition of a Vulnerable child has been updated by the government since the first lockdown. Most children in SEN provision or PRU’s  have an Education Health care plan, hence the classification of all these pupils under government advice means that they are all vulnerable and the provider remains open. UNISON is arguing that only those children assessed  as vulnerable in their COVID EHC plan should be attending the school. For example those at those at risk of abuse etc should they stay at home, and those children of critical workers. UNISON has written to the Secretary of state about this matter.

It would be reasonable for employers to ask for staff who would prefer to work on-site.  This could in-turn help to facilitate working from home for those staff who are vulnerable, or may have problems arranging childcare, such as using grandparents who are now shielding again. NB it is important to note that Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) staff who are on the shielding list have been advised not to attend the workplace.

As the aim of national lockdown and the move to remote learning is to prevent the spread of the virus, it would not be sensible to expect all staff to attend on-site, even if this is to deliver remote learning from a classroom.  Staff would still need to use shared facilities such as toilets and their attendance on-site would result in more cleaning requirements, meaning even more staff would be required to attend.  This would defeat the aim of the government action.  By implementing a rota system, employers will ensure that all roles required on-site are covered and they would keep the number of on-site staff to a safe minimum.

https://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/education-services/key-issues/covid-19-closures/#:~:text=UNISON%20believes%20that%20early%20years,recommend%20that%20they%20do%20so.

Jan 8, 2021