Coronavirus crisis – what’s the plan?

While the Government continues to shift its ‘Master Plan for Schools’ in response to the Coronavirus Crisis, the plan for UNISON and other partner trade unions is simple, your safety and the children’s safety must come first.

Government proposals to substantially expand primary school opening (potentially) from 1 June is an unacceptable risk.  We believe that school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules nor, in most cases, will they be offered any personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fifteen very young children in a class means that classrooms of four and five year old’s could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread the virus.  While we are informed that children generally have mild symptoms, we know that not all children have been that lucky.  UNISON are not pandemic experts nor do we pretend to be.  We, like you, are reliant on those medically/scientifically
qualified to provide us with informed and reliable information.  At the present time that information is patchy and at times contradictory, resulting in low levels of trust and high levels of uncertainty amongst the population at risk.

The Government needs to step back from 1 June and work with UNISON and our partners to create the right conditions for a safe return to school based on a clearly defined set of principles and tests set out below –

  • Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle.
  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national Test Trace scheme.
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with Government, trade
    unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools.
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage.
  • Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk
    assessments.
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates
    clusters of new Covid-19 cases.

Key Questions

IF YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED TO A MEETING IN YOUR SCHOOL ON 1 JUNE – What should you be asking

  • Cleaning & Hygiene – Will additional cleaning and hygiene arrangements be in place for when the extended opening begins?
  • What plans are there for movement around the school to reduce contact and to safely queue up, at 2 metre distance from each other, to access the sanitiser on arrival?
  • Are you satisfied that these arrangements will be in place in time for extended opening and will they work on a practical level?
  • Will there be sufficient staff to maintain these new safety measures in schools?
  • Creating and staffing temporary teaching groups – will these be safe and fair and agreed with teaching and support staff trade unions?
  • Practical steps to reduce risk– are you satisfied that these issues have been resolved to your satisfaction in time for the start of extended opening?
  • External support for SEND and behaviour – are you satisfied that these issues have been considered and that measures covering these areas will be in place in time for extended opening?
  • Changes to routines for staff and pupils – are you satisfied that these issues have been adequately addressed before extended opening begins?
  • Communications with parents – are you confident that parents are aware of what is expected of them?
  • Managing pupil and staff wellbeing and mental health – are you confident that these issues will be taken into consideration and reassurances given?
  • Are there adequate plans for teaching and support staff in place by the time extended opening begins?
  • Remote education during wider opening – is the school prepared to operate on both levels with the staffing available and without increasing the pressure on staff, when extended opening begins?

Are you satisfied that the arrangements will be in place in time for extended opening and that they will work on a practical level? IF NOT CONTACT THE BRANCH WITH YOUR CONCERNS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. 


Supportive Information

CLEANSING & HYGIENE

  • The availability of soap and hot water in every toilet and any areas used for personal care of pupils eg changing (and if possible in classrooms).
  • The location of hand sanitiser stations, for example at the school entrance for pupils and any other person passing into the school to use, and their replenishment.
  • The location of lidded bins in classrooms and in other key locations around the site for the disposal of tissues and any other potentially infected waste, their double bagging and emptying.
  • Ensuring you have a good supply of disposable tissues in each classroom and enough to top up regularly, as well as lidded bins with double bagging for disposal, with any other potentially infected waste, and where these should be located.

Movement around the school

The main suggestion from the DfE is for corridors to be used on a one-way basis.

  • Will a one-way system be introduced? If not, why is it not needed?
  • What arrangements are proposed for safe movement on staircases?
  • What arrangements are in place for use of lifts – can social distancing be achieved if a staff member travels in the lift with a child?
  • How will staff and children be made aware of the new arrangements, with particular reference to very young children and those with special needs?
  • Who will monitor that the systems are being complied with? Will a member of staff be on duty at all times?
  • Are other measures needed in corridors, e.g. floor markings,
    removal of furniture or students walking in single file without holding hands?
  • Is there provision for the movement of pupils around the school who may need additional assistance from an adult?
  • What arrangements are proposed around access to pupil/staff toilets to ensure no overcrowding during lesson and break times?
  • What signage will be displayed to support these new systems?
  • Are you satisfied that staff and children will be able to move safely through the corridors and up and down stairs from the date when the school opens more
    widely?

The following email was sent to all Primary School Head Teachers on the 19/5/20.

“Dear Head Teacher

Government plans to increase number of pupils in schools on 1 June – request for copy of risk assessment

I write on behalf of UNISON members concerning the government’s plan to increase pupil numbers on 1 June and the threat this plan poses to the health and safety of pupils, parents, staff and our wider community.

UNISON is taking up our concerns over safety directly with the government and we are calling on the Prime Minister to step back from an unsafe increase in pupil numbers on 1 June. We want to work together with government to create the conditions for a safe return to schools, based on the principles and tests set out by education unions representing support staff, teachers and head teachers (see TUC statement). The government has, however, failed to meet these principles and it’s own five key tests; meaning a safe increase in pupils on 1 June is not possible.

UNISON is clear that the current situation is not the fault of the school or its leadership and we understand that the school has a duty to plan for all eventualities. Therefore, we would request that you please urgently provide UNISON and the other recognised unions with a full copy of the school’s draft risk assessments for increasing pupil numbers.

I would further request, that you urgently enter into collective discussions with us on the measures that would need to be taken for a safe increase in pupil numbers. To assist these discussions, UNISON (alongside other union colleagues) has produced a detailed checklist and planning guide which follows the structure of the DfE planning guide. We believe this checklist will clearly demonstrate just how
unsafe increasing pupil numbers on 1 June would be.

The Department for Education has confirmed that 1 June is an ‘aspiration’ and therefore the responsibility for taking the decision about when it is safe to increase pupil numbers will rest with individual schools. UNISON believes therefore that it is important that we all stand together to ensure that everyone in the school and
community is safe.

Regards

Neil Woods

Convenor / Schools Lead

Now more than ever, you need the support of your union.  Although we have to maintain social distance, we do have the capacity to hold ‘virtual’ meetings.  If you want to discuss issues of concern as part of a group, please email the branch and we will make the arrangements.  Alternatively email the branch to arrange a one-to-one discussion.

Stay Safe!