We are sure that you will have been following the developments in England regarding the return to schools for the new term. The NEU’s advice to members in England has been clear and emphasised via Zoom calls, You Tube and other social media.
Many of you have been contacting NEU Cymru regarding the situation in Wales and it is clear that the SAGE advice on the safety of schools at this moment in time is as relevant to us here as it is anywhere in the UK. The Welsh Government did advise that schools across Wales could switch to distance learning for the first week of term but with flexible arrangements regarding the return of pupils phased in up until a full return for all schools by 18 January 2021.
We have already written to the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, regarding this approach. We do not know enough about the new COVID variant or its transmissibility rates to say that it is safe to return to face-to-face teaching at any time over the next 2 weeks nor in the foreseeable future. We are continuing to talk to the Minister and officials about this and a meeting is scheduled early next week and we will convey to you the outcome of that.
NEU Cymru’s view is that it is unsafe for you to attend the workplace at present. We have written to all employers and all head teachers and principals expressing our view and asking them to make preparations for a move to remote learning instead.
This advice applies to all primary and secondary schools, special schools and SEND settings, colleges and early years settings.
NEU Cymru’s advice is that you should decide to whether to advise your head teacher or principal that you will not be attending the workplace but will be available to work remotely from home. We are providing a model letter for to send to your head teacher or principal which you can access here.
When sending this letter, you will also be asserting your legal right to be protected against any detrimental action by your employer. This right is explained in full in the model letter.
Our advice applies for at least the first two weeks of term, the same period for which Welsh Government has introduced the flexible arrangements referred to above.
NEU Cymru is issuing this advice after careful consideration of the advice which was apparently given to the Government by the SAGE advisory group, The TAC advice issued on 23 December 2020 and the current position on infection rates.
We understand that SAGE has advised the Westminster Government specifically that schools should move to remote learning in order to help reduce the rate of spread of the Covid-19 virus. The NEU supports and endorses this and has called for this advice to be made public. TAC has identified that high numbers of incidents continue to be reported in school settings.
Given the overall increase in infection rates we believe it is unsafe for schools and colleges to reopen in any area at present.
Infection rates are far higher than at the end of last term. This increase has been promoted by the new variant of the Covid-19 virus which was not properly understood at that time. These developments mean, in our view, that the risk assessments in place in schools and colleges at the end of last term cannot now be relied on by employers to demonstrate that workplaces are safe in these changed circumstances. We are calling on all employers in all schools and colleges, whatever their age group they serve and whatever the local tier of restrictions, to review their risk assessments and safety measures before asking employees to return to the workplace.
We accept that schools and colleges may need to provide face to face provision for vulnerable students and the children of key workers and are also expected to open for some exam groups. This should, however, only happen after risk assessments have been reviewed and appropriate measures taken to ensure safety, including for necessary social distancing and limits on group sizes. It is likely that many schools and colleges will not, as a consequence, be able to provide this provision sufficiently during the coming weeks.
We are advising members that they should agree to make themselves available to attend the workplace to support these students on a rota basis. This advice is, however, subject to the advice given in the next paragraph.
We expect the following to be in place in all education workplaces if and when they admit students:
- a review of all risk assessments in the light of the much higher transmission of the new variant;
- social distancing of 1 metre between pupils in all schools and colleges to replace the current practice of cohort distancing which allows whole year groups to mix without any social distancing;
- masks to be worn by pupils and staff in secondary school classrooms and colleges;
- school and college staff to be made a top priority for vaccination - along with health care staff and starting with the most vulnerable; and
- until vaccinated, Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff and women in the third trimester of pregnancy to work from home, supporting students who are at home.
NEU Cymru will provide complete support to members in any school or college where the above minimum requirements are not in place.