Government guidance for schools increases Covid risk and threatens learning, warns UNISON
Unsafe practices and inappropriate arrangements to cover for teachers aren’t the way to protect education
Using support staff to cover for teachers isolating with Covid is the wrong approach to dealing with the school staffing crisis and ensuring pupils’ education continues, says UNISON today (Monday).
This week, the Department for Education (DfE) issued guidance encouraging schools to use support staff “more flexibly” as children return after the Christmas break.
UNISON recognises that the rapid spread of Omicron is causing high numbers of staff absences in schools and that learning must continue for pupils. However, the union says using low-waged employees as teachers on the cheap amounts to exploitation and is inappropriate.
Ministers have also asked schools to consider “combining classes”, but UNISON says this could put staff and pupils at risk by increasing virus transmission and may disrupt education.
Now the union is calling on the government to provide schools with sufficient funding so they are appropriately staffed, and for urgent additional measures such as short periods of online learning to manage high staff absence rates. Without government action, UNISON warns that schools may be unable to protect pupils from harm because of unsafe staffing levels.
Teaching assistants and support staff have faced unprecedented pressure to cover for absent teachers since the start of the pandemic. UNISON has been contacted by some who have had to take whole classes at short notice and without the necessary training including:
- A teaching assistant looking after whole year groups (90 pupils) in the school hall
- A cover supervisor on £14,000 a year who had ‘a full teacher’s timetable’ despite not being trained or paid for these duties
The union is advising support staff not to agree to unsafe practices such as inappropriate cover arrangements.
UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “Schools should remain open to all and maintain face-to-face education.
“But this shouldn’t be at any cost. Unsafe practices and inappropriate arrangements to cover for teachers aren’t the way to protect education.
“Merging classes during a pandemic undermines everything schools have done to try to limit the virus spread. The education benefits are minimal when classrooms are overcrowded, and health risks to pupils and staff increase.
“Pupils deserve the best quality education, but this can only be achieved with the right measures in place. Ministers must do everything in their power to keep schools, pupils and staff safe.”
Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
UNISON North West Schools meeting
For anyone who wasn’t able to attend UNISON North West School Support Staff Meeting- 11 October 2021 here are links to the recording.
YouTube now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXx8GYr3MU8
The Secretary of State has today published a video encouraging testing before pupils return after half-term – the DfE have asked us to share via our networks
Nadhim Zahawi on Twitter: “It’s really important that students returning to school or college next week take a Covid test before going back. Please listen and share this message so we can continue protecting each other and our education 👇🏽👇🏽👇🏽 https://t.co/TiycFxfjV6” / Twitter
UNISON is also campaigning for additional mitigations to be brought back into schools as a matter of urgency – today’s Office for National Statics infection survey shows 1 in 11 secondary age children with Covid and 1 in 25 primary age children. These are unprecedented levels of infection and its clear additional mitigations are needed urgently to keep pupils and staff safely in school during the winter. The DfE guidance has completely failed and its clear just how reckless the government decision to remove mitigations was ; that’s why we are also calling on schools and councils to bring in mitigations locally from Monday.
Covid-19 guidance updates
UNISON, NEU, GMB and Unite have published several updated guidance documents to reflect changes to safety measures in school settings in England:
- Guidance for ‘staff at greater risk’ in schools and early years settings
- Risk assessment checklist
- Ventilation guidance in schools
The Government has chosen to remove most Covid safety measures in education and early years settings in England, a decision that UNISON strongly opposes. We are concerned it may well lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases and cause disruption in schools, particularly as most pupils are not currently being offered the vaccine and community rates are high.
We are also concerned that the ‘indicative’ thresholds for numbers of infections set by Department for Education (DfE) in its contingency framework are too high and risk leading to the further spread of COVID.
We therefore urge branches to contact local schools and early years providers to seek agreement to implementing the measures in our risk assessment checklist and guidance. The DfE guidance permits leaders to adopt these additional proportionate safety measures.
Our priority is to support schools and early years settings to put in place measures to try and avoid the disruption, lost learning, and illness we saw at the end of the last term.
Model escalation procedure for dealing with serious local health and safety failings
We have updated our model local escalation procedure and template letter, which can be used in the event of serious health and safety failings.
The escalation procedure’s aim is to seek immediate remedial action to keep pupils and staff safe in school.
UNISON letter to Secretary of State on Contact Tracing
UNISON has written to The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP raising urgent questions and concerns over new contact tracing procedures.
We fear these new government procedures could see many close contacts in education settings remain un-traced through the new system, meaning they will not even be identified or advised to get a PCR test.
Support numeracy for #Checktember!
Feeling confident in numeracy is a very useful skill that many struggle with. Brushing up on numbers can help members be more confident at work.
Please support National Numeracy’s campaign for #Checktember and encourage members to spend as little as 10 mins a day boosting their number confidence and skills though the National Numeracy Challenge.
The Challenge can help you to understand your current numeracy level and enables you to quickly improve with tailored learning resources.
Stars in Our Schools – 26 November
Our Stars in our Schools celebration day is coming up on 26 November. This is our annual event where we highlight the vital work of support staff – and never has this been more clear than over the last 18 months.
Take a look at our website for more information on the campaign, resources to download and ideas for how to get involved this year.
Our Stars campaign materials are also available to order online! Branches will have until 24 September to order TC branded materials from the online shop, including water bottles, badges, buttons and bookmarks.