September 2020 Coronavirus Briefing

The start of the new school year sees us moving into uncharted territory, with schools and colleges opening for all students and the virus still out there. We have not been helped in our preparations by the government who have failed to give clear guidance and delayed important announcements until the last minute.

The NEU believes that children should be back in school and that everything should be done to maintain this for as long as possible. That means having robust plans in place to ensure the safety of staff and children. It also means being ready to respond to changes in the local situation and having a clear outline of what happens if cases develop. The NEU has issued updated guidance for vulnerable members and a checklist for your workplace:

Vulnerable members advice 2020

Checklist for September 2020

This a brief guide of what we want Reps and members to know – for a full guide visit the NEU website.

  1. THE PLAN

Schools must have a full plan, or risk assessment, in place to welcome staff and students back at the beginning of term, this should be discussed and agreed with staff. This is covered by the NEU checklist and covers issues such as: hygiene • cleaning • groupings • movement around the building • start and finish times • lunch and break times • use of equipment • marking • meetings and more.  Reps should be consulted on the risk assessment and all staff should be made familiar with the arrangements.

  1. KEEP IT UNDER REVIEW

Many schools have thorough plans in place that meet the NEU checklist, but these have yet to be tested by the reality of having hundreds of adults and children on site – there will be things that don’t work, things people haven’t thought of and, above all, we must avoid complacency setting in.

It is important, therefore, that the plan is seen as a live document and kept under continual review. The NEU suggests that a system is set up for staff to refer any issues and that these are dealt with promptly. We also suggest a regular catch-up meeting between unions and SLT.

  1. PLAN B

It is equally important that schools are prepared for a change in circumstances and are ready to respond in the event of positive cases within the school or a rise in the local case rate. It is vital that everyone knows what to do if circumstances change and what their responsibilities are. Local figures are now available and the government has issued a four-tiered approach to guide local responses. As part of their Plan B schools should be ready to support home learning, if groups of children have to be sent home or the school has to close down again.

  1. FAQs

While we all want to be back in school, many staff are anxious and there are many questions from NEU members.

Full guidance is available on the website but here are some of the most commonly asked questions:

  • Vulnerable staff: individual risk assessments should be carried out for staff in higher risk groups, including pregnant women. Everything should be done to minimise risk to these members and where possible we recommend that they be allowed to work from home. Pregnant women in their third trimester should work from home.
  • Masks and face coverings: although the government advise that face coverings are not necessary, the NEU recommends that staff who wish to wear a face covering are allowed to do so. The advice on face coverings is being kept under review and schools should agree a policy with staff.
  • Quarantine: staff who have been instructed to quarantine on return from holiday should discuss the situation with their head and be available to work from home. Staff should not be deducted pay as a result of quarantine.

5. TEACHER PAY AWARD AND PAY PROGRESSION

New pay scales have been published incorporating the teacher pay award for September 2020. Reps should ask their head to confirm that these will be implemented for all teaching staff. https://neu.org.uk/pay-advice

Reps should also confirm that all eligible teachers will be awarded pay progression for September. No member of staff should be penalised if they have been unable to complete their appraisal.

Note: support staff received a 2.75% pay increase in April as part of the local government pay award.

We will issue further updates but please do check the NEU website www.neu.org.uk/coronavirus and contact us if you have any concerns about any aspect of this situation.