Risk evaluation and a well understood formal assessment on reducing risk is first and foremost in any school or college operations. Public health is the overriding issue that must remain the priority in determining how to deliver reduced provision in schools or colleges. Any arrangements should enable staff and children to follow social distancing guidance and limit other risks relating to the spread of the virus.
The NEU believes it is vitally important to remember in any risk evaluation of this current Covid19 health crisis that the vast majority of pupils should be at home, including children of key workers where this is possible. Schools and colleges have been asked to provide childcare for a small number of pupils/students where no real alternative is available. For the welfare of children in the care of schools and colleges, the risk assessment should consider where possible, small groups of pupils/students that are cared for by professional staff in familiar surroundings. Where schools have set up arrangements that are working well for them and their communities, they should not be forced to abandon these for a ‘hub’ model.
NEU recognises that some schools may decide to enter into a ‘partnership arrangements’ with other local schools/colleges to ensure that provision can continue to be offered. For some schools, such as very small schools, this may be the only option available.
However, the NEU do have a number of concerns about the use of large-scale, centralised hubs where large numbers of pupils and staff are gathered in one space, as social distancing is far more challenging to achieve. Greater number of pupils and staff in a single space not only increases risk factors under a Covid19 environment, but creates additional risk associated with travelling for children, parents and staff to these locations. The approach is not consistent with the government’s overarching aim and objective to reduce the spread of the virus, but also potentially imposes unnecessary risk on pupils and staff alike.
Clearly, schools should continue to engage with their local authority and discuss long-term contingency planning should school closures continue for some months, but public health and risk evaluation that governs the reduction of risk factors associated with Covid19 should always take president.
In enabling key workers to continue to perform essential services and to provide care for vulnerable pupils, NEU is drawing on government and public health advice:
- Childcare at home wherever possible: this remains the best advice for everyone, to limit the spread of the virus.
- Greatly reduced provision (small numbers) at the usual school.
- Attendance at a neighbouring school.
- ‘Hub’ provision. More pupils, in fewer schools presents an increased risk of spreading the virus and should only be considered in terms of no other viable alternative.
Schools that are being asked to join larger hubs may want to consider posing some of the following questions as part of the risk evaluation process:
- What social distancing control measures will be in place?
- Is there a formal risk assessment available to view and contribute to?
- What is the rationale behind this approach of putting more pupils/students and staff together in one place?
- What transport arrangements are there and how will social distancing be maintained during transportation?
- Will there be written confirmation that all staff working in different settings will be fully covered by insurance?
- Do social services support this model of provision?
- Has a safeguarding policy been adapted to support this approach?
- Have parents been consulted?
- Why does this approach need to happen?
- What considerations for pupil/student staff well-being has there been? Such as; taking pupils/students out of familiar settings with familiar staff and putting them in unfamiliar settings with unfamiliar staff?
- What are the line management arrangements for working operations?
- Who will be responsible for working out the staffing rotas, holiday cover, etc?
- In what way is the current model not working well?
- What are the mechanisms or processes for reviewing control measures formalise in the risk assessment when revised control measures are needed as we progress through the Covid19 health crisis?
- Have all staff been made aware of the formal risk assessment and has or is a register being kept of staff accepting the parameters of the assessment document?