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:
You can read the whole statement here.
1st June 2020
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.
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.
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
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.
Alex Kenny (NEU) and John McLoughlin (UNISON)
Here is the updated guidance on staff at higher risk of Coronavirus 9th June 2020
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:
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.
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.
Read the joint commentary here
Download the PDF here: Primary Coronavirus workplace 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
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:
We will be sending this to the Local Authority and headteachers.
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
Meeting ID: 614 115 7814
We will hold a separate meeting for secondary Reps later in the week.
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
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.
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.
heads say June 1st reopening unfeasible
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.
5th April 2020
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 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:
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:
It includes detailed guidance on the role of a safety rep:
And lots of helpful videos and pro-formas at:
There is also an NEU health and safety reps email group and mailing list, which safety reps can join if they wish to.
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