The safest approach available to schools is to postpone any such events to a time when they can be accommodated safely.
We believe that such gatherings pose clear risks to the health and safety of those present, including staff, as well as in wider public health terms, given the close proximity of large numbers of adults from different households.
This ties in with current PHA guidance which is that you should avoid visiting places where there is a chance that large numbers of people will gather and crowds will form.
The COVID-19 outbreak has required schools and other educational settings to introduce strict control measures in relation to the presence of parents and other visitors on site. As such schools should explore parental consultations being undertaken effectively and safely by using remote contact such as phone, email or online (e.g. a zoom meeting).
The latest DE Guidance confirms that meetings should be held remotely/online and if meetings are essential face to face then PHA guidance must be followed:
“is recommended that tele-conference or videoconference be used for parent-teacher meetings or staff meetings in schools. When face to face meetings are required, the current public health advice on social distancing must be followed”
The Education Authority have also confirmed that schools should therefore conduct their parent-teacher meetings through this medium in the first instance. If a meeting cannot be facilitated through tele-conference or video conference and a face to face meeting is required then the school should conduct a risk assessment, identifying the control measures they will put in place so that social distancing and public health advice can be observed.
So, where consultations with individual parents on a one-off basis are deemed necessary, it is critical that any meeting in the school is organised in a way that is in accordance with the control measures that schools must have in place when adults who are not members of school staff are visiting sites in person.
These measures should be set out clearly in schools’ risk assessments.
These issues should be addressed before any such gathering (staff meeting, parent consultations, open days etc.):
- Is the meeting essential?
- Can the meeting be held remotely? (e.g. phone call, zoom call etc)
- In what circumstances is a face to face meeting deemed the only method of communication?
- Our view (supported by DE and EA Guidance) is that online should be the first preference, followed by phone, and only in exceptional circumstances face to face for those who cannot use the alternative remote methods?
- Adopting this approach will greatly reduce the number of people needing to be physically present in the school.
- Has an appropriate risk assessment be carried out a recognised person responsible for organising or operating the gathering been appointed?
- PHA Guidance is that the organiser must have carried out a risk assessment which meets the requirement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 and take all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
- The responsible person organising the gathering must provide a copy of the risk assessment and set out the reasonable measures taken within 24 hours of the request.
- The DE Guidance reinforces the legal requirement to consult with Trade Unions on school risk assessments – has this been done.
NEU ‘advise’ members rather than ‘instruct’ but unless all of these measures in our checklist are satisfied we advise members not to attend such gatherings.