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After the government’s announcement of a big bang full approach to school re-opening from 8 March, UNISON’s national schools committee met this week to discuss next steps. The committee agreed to keep on campaigning to get the government to step back and allow a phased re-opening.

We have already met with Department for Education officials to challenge the decision. We highlighted the need for all school staff to have early access to the vaccine and the areas of their guidance that need to be strengthened, such as ventilation and face coverings in primary schools. We will meet with the schools minister next week and re-emphasise these points, and working with the NEU, we are writing to MPs, councillors and mayors too.

Along with other unions we have sent our newly updated joint union risk assessment guidance directly to school leaders. Now we need to ensure the checklist is actively used by schools in their planning for 8 March.

New joint union RA checklist

Next week we will send you a new model escalation process which will help you to deal with members' problems if schools are forced to open in a big bang.

Following legal advice and in the context of infection rates dropping rapidly and the vaccination programme having an impact on the spread of the virus, UNISON (and other unions) will not be issuing a new national ‘section 44’ model letter as we did in January.

However, the risk of infection remains and some members may feel they face unacceptable risks and so need to take urgent action to ensure their safety, so we will include advice on how to use these rights for members locally in the new escalation process.

We have produced new joint union guidance for medically vulnerable or otherwise higher risk staff. This is being sent to members today and includes a model letter for them to send to their employers if necessary.

Vulnerable staff guidance

UNISON strongly believes school and early years staff deserve urgent assurances from the government that they will be offered vaccinations as a priority.

We continue to push this point with the government, but members can help pile on the pressure by asking their MPs to lobby the government. Please encourage members to use this simple tool to do so.

Priority vaccines

Finally, thank you to everyone who joined us for Wednesday evening's member meeting to discuss the wider reopening plans. If you missed it, you can watch a recording of it here.

Watch the event

Our dedicated schools and early years advice page is being updated to reflect the new situation.

Thank you as always for your hard work to protect our members.

Jon Richards
UNISON Head of Education

Mar 4, 2021