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.

School and college wider opening in March

The challenges posed by this pandemic are still very real and deadly but, with the vaccination programme progressing, the situation is improving. Upon the wider opening of schools and colleges from 8 March, it is critical that leaders carry out reviews of existing risk assessments as a matter of urgency.

Please be assured that the 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 and college opening - ensuring safety for all students and staff

The NEU is cautious about the Government’s announcement of the wider opening of schools and colleges during this global pandemic, but recognises the negative impact of a lack of stable continuous education provision on future generations. We aim to assist school and college leaders with their plans and safety measures for wider opening 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 advice has been issued by the joint unions (GMB, NEU, UNISON and UNITE) for use from March 2021 onwards in schools and colleges. Given the continuing impact of the pandemic upon schools, the joint unions want to support safe wider opening. Use this advice to supplement Government guidance on safety measures. The NEU believes this advice to be sound and useful as we slowly begin to reopen society.

Also read our specific advice for leaders on risk assessment, which gives guidance to ensure all necessary areas are considered when 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 continues to believe that all Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) staff, and many other vulnerable staff, should work from home at the current time - read our previous letter to heads and our detailed briefing for heads.

You can also read our updated union guidance on testing arrangements in schools and colleges.

We know you will recognise the need for full consultation with staff on measures to ensure safety. The NEU’s national tests for school opening are helping to ensure that measures are in place for safety nationally, while our joint union guidance 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 will not 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 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 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 while the national furlough scheme operates is still in place. Please ensure you treat directly-employed or agency-employed supply staff in line with the Department for Education (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 management 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.
  • Have 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.
  • Work with local authorities/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 consult with staff, parents and students despite the time constraints associated with this advice.