The National Education Union (NEU) welcomes the work of school and college leaders to support students and staff during the current crisis. As your union, we will continue to provide the support you need to manage matters in the face of consistently changing Government demands.

Mass testing in secondary schools and colleges will be introduced from 4 January.  Staff and learners will be able to take part in the testing regime that is absolutely voluntary.  There is a new union guidance on how it could impact members.

School and college opening in January

The challenges posed by spiralling infection rates mean that it cannot be safe for any school or college to open fully at present, while urgent reviews of risk assessments are needed before anyone returns to the workplace even for limited opening. 

Please be assured that the National Education Union (NEU) will make every effort to support its leadership members as you continue to make such incredible efforts to maintain students' education in the face of this crisis.

School & college opening - ensuring safety for all students & staff

The NEU wants schools and colleges to remain open where it is safe to do so.  We aim to assist schools and college leaders with their plans and safety measures through a thorough process of risk evaluation and assessment.  Your safety and that of your students and staff, their families and society as a whole must be our priority.

This checklist has been issued by the joint unions (GMB, NEU, UNISON and UNITE) for use from November 2020 onwards in schools and colleges. Faced with worsening impact of the pandemic upon schools, the joint unions want to support schools in remaining safely open, but do not have confidence that the measures set out in Government guidance are sufficient on their own to achieve this purpose.

Also read our specific advice for leaders on risk assessment which gives guidance to ensure that all necessary areas are considered in undertaking risk assessments.

Knowledge about the greater risks of Covid-19 to specific individuals and groups means that risk assessments for individual staff members are needed to ensure their safety.  Read our guidance on conducting individual risk assessments and general guidance on the position of vulnerable people.

The NEU has written to all heads setting out our view that CEV staff should in all cases work from home - read our letter and our detailed briefing for heads

We know you will recognise the need for full consultation with staff and safety to be assured. The NEU’s national tests for school opening are helping to ensure that measures are in place for safety nationally, while our joint checklist and other advice will help ensure safety in your particular school or college.

Other advice to help you as a leader

Staffing matters

The NEU will continue to provide advice to leader members in relation to staffing matters. 

Where staff are absent, please follow our guidance on pay and sick pay. Make it clear that you intend to do so – and that absences won’t be counted for sickness monitoring purposes. Be flexible and generous with leave of absence for those who need to care for others. This pandemic is not over - staying alert to the virus dangers and remaining kind and showing empathy towards those you lead still remains vital.

Make sure you consider all those at particular potential risk, and don’t assume you know everything about everyone – ask people if they have information to volunteer about themselves. Respect the medical advice they receive – and their own views and fears.

Please also establish arrangements which ensure that you can continue to use supply staff to cover vacancies. This will continue to help casual supply staff cope with some very difficult months. 

The NEU’s previous advice on continuing to employ supply staff during the period while the national furlough scheme operates is still in place.  Please ensure that you treat directly employed or agency employed supply staff in line with the DFE advice as outlined here

The NEU continues to call for all employers to agree that all eligible staff should receive pay progression automatically.  Decisions cannot realistically be taken this year by reference to objectives set before the crisis.  This approach should have been reflected both in appraisal or performance managements discussions and pay outcomes from the 2019-20 academic year.  All employers should continue to properly reflect the impact of Coronavirus in discussions on objectives for 2020-21 and in mid-year reviews.

Behaviour policy

The DfE has published a behaviour and attendance checklist for school leaders to support them to reengage all pupils from the autumn term.  The DfE checklist provides some welcome reminders which the NEU supports, including the following recommendations:

  • time to train staff in new behaviour expectations – to ensure all staff are trained properly, school leaders should consider whether a more flexible or phased return is appropriate.
  • having an open dialogue with parents about safety etc – given the time constraints, schools may need to work with parents who have particular concerns about their child’s safety more flexibly at the start of term.
  • working with LAs / health teams to ensure a smooth return for SEND pupils
  • training for Dedicated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) and pastoral leads to spot signs of pupil distress and poor mental health.

Please seek to ensure that you do consult with staff, parents and students despite the time constraints associated with this advice.

Your views

Please email the National Official for leadership members steve.cooper@neu.org.uk with further suggestions for matters on which leaders need support.