Supporting pupils to return to school safely: statement from Mayor John Biggs

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, today made a statement on the wider reopening of schools in the borough. These paragraphs show that the Council is listening to concerns of staff, parents, carers and other members of our community in relation to opening schools too early:

“My job is to build support for a position that both keeps us safe, and around which we can build confidence. I recognise the opinion around 15th June and if this is a date around which schools and families can plan, and be confident, then that is a major step forwards for us in Tower Hamlets and I support it.
Building confidence around a later date, of 15th June, for those schools who do not feel confident with the date suggested by the Government, is a good idea.”

You can read the whole statement here.

1st June 2020

 

 

Coronavirus FAQs

This briefing answers some of the most frequently asked questions from NEU members – for full details of our advice and to download the checklist please visit www.neu.org.uk/coronvirus – if you have any concerns talk to your NEU Rep or contact your local office.

You can download a copy of the briefing here: Coronavirus FAQs:

You can read the full briefing below.

The purpose of this briefing is to update members on the latest situation and NEU advice, following the government’s decision to ask schools to begin wider reopening from June 1st.The NEU believes that it is not safe to reopen schools, primarily because the numbers of cases is too high and an efficient system of testing and tracing is not in place.

However, many schools are planning to reopen for larger numbers of children, with most taking a cautious and measured approach to the process. To help Reps and members with this, the NEU has produced a checklist for schools, which we expect to be met before more children are brought back to school.
    1. Who should remain at home?

    The NEU believes that the following staff should remain at home:

    • those who have developed Covid-19 symptoms – a consistent cough or fever or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)
    • those who are in either of the vulnerable groups identified by the government
    • those who live with, or care for someone, in either of the vulnerable groups identified by the government
    1. What about Black* staff?

    There is strong evidence that Covid-19 has a disproportionate impact on Black people. The NEU believes that Black staff who feel that they may be at risk should be allowed to work from home.

    1. What should I do if I think I should not be in school?

    You should refer to the NEU guidance and discuss this with your head. The NEU guidance includes model letters for you to use, if you think you may be vulnerable and should continue working from home.

    1. Can all staff be expected to attend school?

    Heads should establish a list of available staff and use this to plan arrangements for reopening to more children. It is not reasonable to expect all staff to be in school for INSET or any other purpose. Government guidelines contain strict measures for contact and social distancing between staff. Contact must be kept to a minimum, therefore staffing should be kept at the minimum to meet the needs of those children attending school.

    1. I am pregnant – can my school start maternity leave early?

    If you are sick with Covid-19, or have symptoms, the school cannot start your maternity leave early. If you are shielding because you are pregnant, and you are within four weeks of the due date, then the school may do this – we would want to persuade your head not to do this, but to allow you to continue working from home.

    1. My head has asked me to take unpaid leave

    If you are unable to attend work you should tell your head that you are available to work from home – you should not agree to take unpaid leave and should contact the local NEU office.

    1. I work part-time – can my head change my days or make me full-time?

    Your head cannot change your contract or working days without your agreement.

    1. Should teachers or teaching assistants be cleaning classrooms?

    No. All areas of the school will need thorough cleaning every day, but this should be done by specialist cleaners, not by teachers or TAs.

    1. I believe the school is not safe
      The NEU has produced a checklist for Reps and members to use. Your school should be “checklist compliant” before wider reopening. If you have any concerns, discuss them with colleagues and ask your Rep to take the concerns of members to the head. We will support members who wish to refuse to work in an unsafe environment.

          Download the NEU Planning Checklists

  • Checklists for primary, secondary and special schools
  • Checklist for vulnerable workers 
There is a full set of guidance, including checklists and model letters on the NEU website www.neu.org.uk.
1st June 2020
* Black – The NEU uses the term Black as an inclusive term to signify the anti-racist organising of all African, African Caribbean, Asian people and all those that face racism as a result of the colour of their skin.

Coronavirus Update 1st June 2020

As you know, the NEU is continuing to recommend that schools delay plans for wider reopening until at least June 15th, a position that is supported by recent comments from government scientific advisers.

In Tower Hamlets a small number of schools are admitting larger numbers of children this week, others are planning to do so next week with many delaying to June 15th.

Please note that for secondary schools June 15th is the earliest date they should be admitting students from Years 10 and 12.

Whatever is happening in your school, the NEU is here to support you – if your school is beginning wider reopening this week we must make sure that the environment is safe and also support individual members who have concerns about their safety and well-being.

If your school is not opening this week, we want to use this time to persuade them to delay  and we have produced this NEU Heads Delay Letter for members to request this – a two week delay will save lives.

CHECKLISTS

Please see our website for the checklists for primary, secondary and special schools

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

We have produced the our Coronavirus Factsheet which answers some of the most commonly asked questions – including advice for individual members as well as advice on staff meetings and cleaning. Please share this with colleagues in your school.

Download our Coronavirus FAQs

All our Reps are doing an amazing job in the most difficult of circumstances and everything you are doing is making the NEU stronger.

1st June 2020

Joint NEU Unison letter to Mayor John Biggs

We have just sent the email below to John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Please consider emailing him yourself at mayor@towerHamlets.gov.uk
Please do encourage members to sign up for our Zoom call on Monday at 5pm – we have 200 registered already

Dear John,

Thank you for taking the time to attend the parents Zoom meeting last night.

With over six hundred tuning in this was the largest meeting of its kind anywhere in the country, which clearly reflects a high degree of concern from the local community about the government’s handling of this crisis and their plans for schools.

We all wish the Government was able to command a consensus on these matters as the Government in Denmark has done. But so far the Government has not opened up to teachers, support staff, school leaders or their unions.

We do know the uncertainty and the pressure on school leaders is enormous as it is on staff in our schools.

At the moment we have a very mixed picture in Tower Hamlets and this is only increasing the anxiety amongst our members and parents and may lead to unnecessary conflict in some schools.

As we said at the meeting we acknowledge that the Council cannot instruct schools when to begin wider reopening, this is the case in any situation.

However, we strongly believe that a clear lead from the Council would be welcome by school staff and parents, and there are very good reasons for doing this. You cannot instruct schools, but you can advise them, based on what the evidence is telling us.

The Independent SAGE report published yesterday says:

“The most recent estimates for the UK are that R is between 0.7-1, meaning that all scenarios modelled by SAGE are at risk of pushing R above 1. The school reopening scenario chosen by the government is not one of those modelled by SAGE making the potential impact of reopening even more uncertain. Robust testing systems are not in place everywhere. Additionally, public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained.

“We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening from 1st June, the government is not following the advice of its SAGE group and is risking a new surge in cases of COVID19 in some communities.”

At the press conference Sir David King said, “We want to see (the testing programme) operationally tested for at least a couple of weeks.

 

In response to this report we believe that it would be a very reasonable step for any Council leader to advise schools to wait that couple of weeks so the level of Coronavirus has receded further and for the test and track programme to become embedded. We believe that such a step would go along way to reduce greatly some of the uncertainty and anxiety that currently exists.

We are aware that many Councils have issued advice along these lines, most recently Sheffield who have said that they do wish their schools to begin wider reopening until June 15th at the earliest in doing this the leader of Sheffield Council has said,”we have been advised by the Sheffield Director of Public Health that the recently announced “test and trace” programme will be sufficiently well established and robust enough to be in in place for June 1st. He has advised that the Test and Trace system should be in place and working effectively for 14 days before schools and nurseries begin increasing their numbers.”

Sheffield Council is no different to Tower Hamlets either in its ability to have an effective track and trace system up and running next week or in its ability to instruct schools what to do.

Therefore, we are writing to you to request that you make a public statement supporting our position that, based on the evidence from Independent SAGE and the need to have effective test and trace in place, June 15th is the earliest date on which schools should begin wider reopening.

We would be willing to negotiate a coordinated return to schools on the basis of such a statement.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Alex Kenny (NEU) and John McLoughlin (UNISON)

Vulnerable Workers Checklist (Updated 9th June 2020)

Here is the updated guidance on staff at higher risk of Coronavirus 9th June 2020

Here is a link to the commentary and guidance for vulnerable workers

Download the guidance: Vulnerable workers guidance

Contacting your employer: a model letter

Use the template letter below to write to your employer if you need to.

Dear [add name]

I am writing regarding your planning for possible wider opening of the school, your risk assessment regarding staffing matters in particular, and my own position.

I would like to draw your attention to the following matters, which I would like you to consider when you are looking at staff availability and my role following any wider reopening:

  • insert information regarding your personal position as discussed above

I would like you to agree that, given these circumstances, I will be able to continue to work from home and confirm to me that that will be the case.

If you propose to require me to return to the workplace, I would be grateful if you let me know the reasons (including a copy of the risk assessment and where appropriate the equality impact assessment relating to my position) for that request.

With best wishes.

[Your name]

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus Planning Checklists

Here are links to Joint NEU, Unison, Unite & GMB planning checklists for members to use to ensure that workplaces are safe to open for staff and students.

Primary Checklist

Read the joint commentary here

Download the PDF here: Primary Coronavirus workplace checklist

Secondary Checklist

Read the joint commentary here

Download the PDF here: Secondary Workplace coronavirus checklist

Special Schools & Alternative Provision

Read the joint commentary here

Download the PDF here: Special Schools Workplace checklist

Coronavirus Crisis Primary Workplace Checklist

Coronavrius Workplace Checklist

The NEU has worked together with other education unions (Unite, GMB and Unison) to produce this Joint Union checklist for use in discussions with your head about what schools need to do in order to begin reopening safely for wider groups of children:

Coronavirus Workplace checklist

We will be sending this to the Local Authority and headteachers.

Reopening of schools

June 1st is an arbitrary date set by the government and the NEU believes that schools should not rushing to meet this deadline. LBTH have written to heads to say:

“we are not expecting schools to be open for all children in years 6, 1 and Reception from the 1st of June. We are committed to working with you and the school workforce unions to find a realistic and safe phased approach to reopening over a period of time. The position is very fast moving and there are likely to be further development by the time we meet next week.”

We are meeting with the Local Authority and other unions tomorrow morning to discuss the checklist and plans for local schools, and will hold a meeting for NEU Reps in primary schools at 4pm to report back and continue our discussions with you.

Details of the meeting are here. Please click on the link to register.

PRIMARY REPS ZOOM MEETING

4pm TUESDAY 19th MAY

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/6141157814
Meeting ID: 614 115 7814

We will hold a separate meeting for secondary Reps later in the week.

Kevin Courtney on Good Morning Britain

Here is a link to a video from our joint General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, following his appearance on Good Morning Britain this morning.

18th May 2020

Coronavirus update & members zoom meeting

First of all I would like to encourage you to register for our online members meeting on Friday at 4pm – with over 300 registrations already it is going to be our biggest meeting ever.

 REGISTER HERE 

The government plans to begin reopening primary schools on June 1st have been sharply criticised by all education unions, including the NAHT who represent the majority of primary headteachers.

A joint union statement was issued yesterday which called on the government to, “step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out” – read the statement here.

NEU negotiations with Tower Hamlets Head Teachers
Yesterday we wrote to Tower Hamlets headteachers outlining the NEU position that no detailed planning should take place on the basis of reopening on June 1st and this has been well received – read the letter here.

We think it is best to refrain from detailed discussions at this stage.

However, where discussions are taking place, our advice is that it should be on the understanding that schools are not committed to reopening on June 1st as it is not safe and that we will issue further advice nearer the time.

A lot will happen over the next few days and the NEU will be updating our advice and guidance in response to the changing situation.

At all times we will have the safety and well being of staff, children, and their families, at the centre of our thinking.

Over 5,000 teachers and support staff have joined the NEU since Sunday, which is a clear sign that school staff support the approach we are taking.

Please do discuss the situation with colleagues in your school and look out for further updates – and do join our mass meeting on Friday at 4pm.

IN THE NEWS
‘Not safe to reopen schools,’ warn teacher unions

heads say June 1st reopening unfeasible

DfE scientific adviser says he has not assessed the guidance on reopening schools

Guide to running a zoom meeting

We are asking workplace reps to organise zoom meetings with members to discuss the likely decision to try and open schools and colleges.

Here is a guide to how zoom works and how you can use it to effectively run a meeting for your members.

User Guide for Zoom

5th April 2020

Health and safety reps – a brief guide

In every workplace union members can agree to appoint a SAFETY REPRESENTATIVE, this is a legal right and only union members decide if they want a safety rep and who it is.

Safety reps have legal rights. These are enshrined in the 1977 Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations and accompanying notes which all have the force of law. These regulations are often referred to as the “Brown Book”.

Once a safety rep is chosen by union members the headteacher, chair of governors and employer must be informed of the name of the safety rep in writing.

So too should the

  • NEU district secretary Alex Kenny – alex.kenny@neu.org.uk
  • NEU District health and safety advisor – Paul McGarr – prmcgarr@yahoo.co.uk

NEU guidance is that these can then inform the school and employer of who the safety rep is.

Safety reps have basic legal rights. The key ones include:

  • to carry out regular safety inspections of the workplaces. The NEU advises that in schools termly is good practice
  • time off to carry out such inspections (NEU guidance is half a day in small schools and full day in larger schools)
  • to be provided with all written documents and policies relating to health and safety
  • to be provided with copies for review of all risk assessments relating to workplaces related activities of all kinds (Risk assessments are management’s responsibility not the safety reps’)
  • the employer/school has a legal obligation to inform and consult safety reps “in good time” on changes and matters in the workplace which may affect the health and safety of members who the safety rep represents
  • each union can choose its own safety rep, but a safety rep for one union can represent staff in other unions by agreement as long as they have the same employer.
  • safety reps are entitled by law to paid time off for training – and the NEU provides excellent training course. Please discuss with the district secretary and/or the district health and safety advisor (see above) if you wish to undertake such training.

Safety inspections place no legal liability or obligation on safety reps. The role of the safety rep is to highlight and report possible issues. The responsibility for dealing with any issues raised rests with the employer not the safety rep.

The NEU produces a wealth of excellent material for safety reps, with detailed guidance on everything from carrying out safety inspections, legal rights and advice on a whole host of issues.

All of this is available on:

https://neu.org.uk/health-and-safety-advice

It includes detailed guidance on the role of a safety rep:

https://neu.org.uk/advice/role-safety-rep

And lots of helpful videos and pro-formas at:

https://neu.org.uk/health-and-safety-reps

There is also an NEU health and safety reps email group and mailing list, which safety reps can join if they wish to.

COVID 19

The situation around Covid 19 is clearly a health and safety issue.

Safety reps should be provided with the risk assessment covering existing arrangements in schools during the lockdown where schools are operating childcare for essential worker or vulnerable children- which should include protocols on ensuring safety.

This is a legal obligation on the school and employer.

Issues concerning these risk assessments, or difficulties obtaining them, should be raised with and reported to the district NEU secretary and the district NEU health and safety advisor (see above).

If there is any proposed wider opening of schools this is a significant change which means there is a legal requirement on schools to consult safety Reps “in good time” and ensure a risk assessment has been carried out and shared with safety reps who can then raise concerns.

Under Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act all employees have a legal right to refuse to be in a workplace if they believe it to be unsafe and to pose a threat to the health and safety of themselves or others.

Please contact the district secretary or district health and safety advisor if you wish to discuss any of this further or need assistance or advice.

Download a PDF version of this blog here: H&S Reps guide

5th April 2020