Schools and Academies

Red warning heatwave – advice for schools and early years settings

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has increased the heat-health alert for England to level 4 – the highest possible, and the Met Office has issued  the first ever red warning for large parts of England for Monday and Tuesday (with an amber warning in place for Sunday) The first Red Extreme heat warning issued. – Met Office

The ‘red warning’  level means a “national emergency”. It is “reached when a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. At this level, illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.”  Under the alert system it also states “substantial changes in working practices and daily routines will be needed.”

What does it mean for schools and early years settings?

As this extreme heat constitutes a serious hazard, all schools and early years settings in affected areas must carry out a thorough risk assessment, and take whatever reasonably practicable measures are indicated to control the risk.   The risk assessment must also cover any outdoor activities, and risks associated with travelling to and from school. It must also take into account increased demand on the NHS and ambulance service which risks affecting any response times and attendance in the event of pupils or staff becoming unwell.

Schools and early years settings have the authority and responsibility to take whatever steps they deem necessary to keep pupils and staff safe. This could include partial closure, so that only rooms that are shaded (such as north facing) are used, reduced operating times, or  full closure, and we would support schools/early years settings in taking that decision if they believed it to be best decision to keep pupils and staff safe.

In addition any staff who are classed as vulnerable, including pregnant employees, should have an individual risk assessment and additional reasonable adjustments (for example working from home or being at home  – on full pay) will be needed.  It is important to remember however, that the dangers are not limited to just the most vulnerable; extreme heat risk also applies to ‘healthy’ individuals under the warning that has been declared.

UNISON has produced the following information for members.  The Department for Education (DfE) has also issued guidance: Looking after children and those in early years settings during heatwaves: for teachers and professionals – GOV.UK (

If you have not had any communication from your school or early years setting please contact them urgently to ask what their plans are for Monday and Tuesday. If you have concerns around their response please immediately contact your local branch. UNISON Branch finder


UNISON respond to Kemi Badenoch’s comments on support staff in schools

 In her Tory leadership speech, Kemi Badenoch said the following:

 “We must require schools to concentrate on effective whole class teaching of rigorous subjects rather than allocating tight resources to superfluous support staff and peripheral activities.”

The comments in her leadership speech are deeply insulting to the dedicated, professional support staff who work tirelessly in our schools. From the teaching assistants to technicians, catering staff to cleaners, and admin staff to after-school club leaders, schools simply couldn’t run without them. They support both children in their well-being and their attainment, with research showing that teaching assistants can add up to 6 months’ additional progress to a pupil over the course of a year.

Support staff worked tirelessly to protect education during the pandemic, at times putting their own health and well-being at risk to keep schools going. Schools never closed; even during the lockdowns they were in school ensuring face-to-face provision for key worker and vulnerable children and organising online learning.

Far from being superfluous, school support staff are vital to schools and are in urgent need of a pay rise.

Kemi Badenoch should retract her comments, speak with support staff, teachers, head teachers and pupils to learn about their role and support UNISON’s campaign for fair pay.

The full speech is here: The support staff reference is around 7mins 22 seconds in.

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.

Government guidance for schools increases Covid risk and threatens learning, warns UNISON | News, Press release | News | UNISON National

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: 



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:

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.