Schools returning in September update

UNISON has called for Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education to review Government guidance for schools following changes last weekend which made face coverings compulsory for all inside public spaces.

UNISON is urging the government to allow all school staff to wear face coverings if they choose. The union also supports calls to let pupils wear face coverings too, given emerging evidence that transmission rates among secondary school children could be equal to those of adults.

UNISON North West Schools Organiser Keith Bradley said: “We all want schools to reopen in September 2020 but this has to be done with due regard to the safety of pupils, staff and the local community.”

UNISON St Helens Schools Convenors Neil Woods commented “COVID-19 continues to challenge our everyday life. Recent events in neighbouring Lancashire and Greater Manchester have seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and it is a reminder that we must not let our guard down. The branch will continue to meet with the Council and Public Health to ensure our members concerns are heard.

If you have a concern, then please contact me at the branch. The phones are continually tied up with calls, and we would urge you to either:

Use the Contact Form on our website
or email us on  Please keep you and your families safe, too many St Helens residents have already been lost to this virus.”

PUBLIC HEALTH ‘RISK ASSESSMENT’ As part of planning for full return in the autumn term, it is a legal requirement that schools should revisit and update their risk assessments (building on the learning to date and the practices they have already developed), to consider the additional risks and control measures to enable a return to full capacity in the autumn term.
Settings should also review and update their wider risk assessments and consider the need for relevant revised controls in respect of their conventional risk profile considering the implications of coronavirus (COVID-19). Schools should ensure that they implement sensible and proportionate control measures which follow the health and safety hierarchy of controls to reduce the risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level.

Clean schools, safer schools

More cleaners needed to make schools safe for return of pupils and staff, says UNISON

8,000  employees working in primary, nursery and special schools in England responded to a recent UNISON survey and the findings are concerning given schools are preparing to reopen fully in September.

Instead of specialist ‘deep-clean’ teams, regular cleaning staff are expected to carry out this potentially hazardous work, according to nearly two thirds (65%) of school workers. ​​A fifth (20%) who took part in the survey said cleaners ​at their school had no access to the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Government guidance states that more rigorous and regular cleansing of classrooms, washrooms and items touched regularly, such as chairs, should be undertaken to limit the infection risk from Coronavirus.

UNISON says there is an urgent need for cleaners to be specially trained in how to disinfect buildings properly and ​handle potentially harmful cleaning materials ​correctly.  Without it, premises might not meet safety standards and staff could be put in danger if asked to use products without knowing the hazards, says the union.

Of the survey respondents who said regular cleaning staff were doing deep cleans, more than a quarter (27%) said these workers had not received specialist training on handling hazardous substances and a similar proportion (26%) said they had not been risk assessed. Many ​English schools have not hired more cleaners despite the extra demands created by COVID-19​, says UNISON. This means other employees such as teaching assistants are ​having to help clean toilets and sanitise toys, according to the survey.

Four in five (81%) of those ​questioned said non-cleaning staff at their school ​were being asked to clean classrooms and items such as chairs and books. This ​is time​ that should be spent helping pupils, says UNISON.

UNISON’s Head of Education Jon Richards said:
“Everyone wants to see children back in the classroom, but this must be done safely. Given the extra cleaning needed, the government must give schools the money to employ cleaners with the necessary training and protective kit to keep the whole school safe.”

Councils forced to pick up the pieces from failing test and trace.

Evidence published on the 4/8/20 highlighted that England’s privately-run test and trace system is unlikely to prevent a second wave of COVID-19. The ineffective test and trace system, alongside the opening of schools and the wider return to the workplace, could lead to a damaging second spike in the virus. £10 billion is currently allocated to the test and trace!

Researchers at UCL and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have modelled what may happen when schools reopen and some parents return to the workplace. In order to avoid a second wave, we need a system that is able to consistently contact 70% or more of those who may have been infected. However, the private companies that the Government has awarded the £10bn contact tracing system to are reportedly only contacting approximately 50% of people who may have been infected.

The private companies (Serco and Sitel) that are running England’s COVID-19 track and trace system are failing us all – but their contracts are up on 23 August.

Councils are already having to pick up the pieces. UNISON is backing a campaign to get money that is being wasted on private companies failings diverted to locally-led track and trace.

We would urge you to email Councillor David Baines, Labour Leader of St Helens Council asking him to write to Secretary of State Matt Hancock to divert the funds when Serco and Sitel contracts end to the local authority to provide a local, reliable track and trace system.

Time is short!  Email:


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!