The NEU wants to ensure you are aware of the following key points which we are putting before school leaders and Government:

  • The NEU recognises the extreme pressure which all leaders are feeling to run schools and colleges, plan for a limited opening with changing rotas and support home learning. Every staff member is working as hard as they can so leaders should negotiate with staff on an ongoing basis, to ensure the whole school community’s well-being. There is an unprecedented emotional impact for all students and staff and the NEU will share information with members about how to support everyone’s well-being.
  • Most importantly your school and or college should and MUST have a rigorously thought out risk assessment that forms the basic operational plan during this Covid19 health crisis.The NEU has produced, as a guide, a question set to help and assist your evaluation of how the school or college can reduce the risk of spreading the virus and infection of personnel.
  • Not every school or college will be affected in the same way. Not every home learning environment is equal. Government needs to recognise that all local schools, including academies, and colleges will need to work together. The Government should instruct all local authorities to co-ordinate all schools, regardless of status. Local authorities will need to make decisions about all education buildings and how and what they are used for. Local NEU representatives should be part of planning arrangements for education settings.
  • The NEU has produced general advice on hub arrangements for the holiday period and supplementary advice for leaders focusing on safety issues.
  • The NEU has also produced joint advice with LGA and other unions on resignation dates.
  • The NEU advises urgently that all teachers, leaders and support staff with underlying health conditions which place them at enhanced risk from the impact of the virus (or who are pregnant) should not be in school.
  • The NEU is calling on Government to provide COVID19 testing for all school staff. Leaders will not have enough staff to keep partially open for key workers if staff need to self-isolate and can’t be tested.
  • Leaders should not be demanding that all staff attend work as normal. The NEU expects head teachers and other relevant leaders to negotiate with staff and to establish rotas for school opening during this Covid19 health crisis. Heads and relevant leaders need to negotiate Easter holiday opening arrangements with staff and seek volunteers.
  • Rotas of staff should be drawn up from staff who are well and not in a vulnerable category. The priority is to accommodate the most vulnerable students and those who have parents who are key workers and who can’t make any other arrangements. The NEU is encouraging all parents who can to keep their child at home. Where they can safely, the NEU thinks that parents of children with EHC plans will need to keep them at home, with what support can be offered from local authorities. The NEU wants the Government to give clear encouragement to keep as many children as possible at home, where they can, and to make it clear that it is not business as usual in schools and colleges at the moment.
  • It is not feasible for every special school to remain open, or reopen during this health crisis. Special schools will have to work together, co-ordinated by the local authority, to work out what will be feasible for children with an EHP plan.

We know that you have many other questions. We will produce further FAQs as more information becomes available.  Please email the National Official for leadership members with further questions, and we’ll attempt to find and share answers as soon as we can.

Frequently asked questions 

These FAQs are intended to be read alongside the Department for Education’s Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision; They are an attempt to capture the most urgent questions school and college leaders are currently asking, and to answer them to the best of our knowledge.

Some of these answers are based on DfE conversations, as well as the detail in the documents above. They are provided here to enable school and college leaders to plan and prepare as best they can in this unprecedented time. If the thinking around anything here changes, we will inform members as soon as possible.

  • What will be expected of schools during the COVID-19 crisis?

    Schools are being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children if they possibly can. These are children who are vulnerable and children whose parents are critical to the Covid-19 response, so-called key workers and or cannot be safely cared for at home. Schools should look to their local authority (LA) for support if necessary, and to let their LA know if they don’t think it will be possible to open at all. First and foremost, should be a Covid19 risk assessment of how the school and or college will reduce risk of virus spread and infection of personnel to reasonable and practicable levels. The NEU have produced a suggested set of questions that should be considered during this health crisis when considering the risk assessment and when reviewing it. The questions set is not exhaustive and has been produced as a guide for rigorous thought when devising control measures.

  • How have critical or key workers been defined?

    The full list of critical workers, as defined by the government for this purpose, is included in their guidance. It includes people working in key roles (importantly, not all roles) in health and social care; education and childcare (including nursery and teaching staff); key public services; local and national government; food and other necessary goods; public safety and national security; transport; and utilities, communication and financial services.

  • Do both parents need to be critical or key workers for their child to be offered a school place?

    No. Children with at least one parent or carer who are identified as critical workers by the government have been told that they can send their children to school if required.

  • How will schools be expected to identify children of key workers?

    The National Education Union would suggest the following questions to be considered as a way of ascertaining the identity of such children;

    • Child and year?
    • In receipt of Free School Meals?
    • Parent/Carer Occupation?
    • If a second parent/carer what is their Occupation?
    • Is the parent or carer in a relevant key worker category?
    • Working patterns of parents or carer, what days in school are required?
    • If schools are to be kept open over the Easter holidays, would you need your child/ren to attend?
    • Emergency contact information during this period?
    • Any medical conditions the school or college should be aware of while your child/ren attend school or college?
    • Formal risk evaluation of a developing situation.
    • Any other comments/relevant information the school or college should know from parents/carers?
  • How have ‘vulnerable children’ been defined?

    The DfE states that ‘vulnerable children’ includes children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

    However, their guidance also makes it clear that they know that schools will also want to support other children facing social difficulties, and that they will support headteachers to do so.

    School and college leaders should therefore use their professional judgement, and their deep knowledge and understanding of their own communities, to offer places to children who they think will be particularly vulnerable if they are not at school for an extended period – even if they are not ‘officially’ classed as vulnerable.

    Leaders should, however, be mindful of the overall aim of keeping children at home as far as possible, with children only being in school if they need to be so in order for their parents to do their critical jobs, or for their own safety.

  • School/college staff to pupil/student ratios?

    Leaders have the moral and legal responsibility for managing risk at this critical time of the current health crisis.  We cannot stress how important the risk evaluation is for your school or college.  It both should inform the operational procedures during this crisis and provide the necessary safety consideration that will reduce risk down to reasonable and practicable levels.

    When looking at staff to pupil/student ratios, the provision will largely depend on the bespoke set of circumstances pertaining to the setting.  Such considerations as; environment, resources, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ease of supervision or difficulty should all be considered by the risk assessment.  However, The Out of School Alliance, an umbrella organisation for out of school clubs, recommends a staff/pupil/student ratio of 1:8 for groups of children under 8 and 1:10 for groups comprised of older children.  In reality, the risk evaluator(s), will have to make their own informed decisions based on local circumstances and this figure is one provided as general guidance only.  Remember, you are ideally looking to reduce numbers of staff or pupils/students to zero until this health crisis is over.  It would also be advisable to check with insurers that new opening arrangements meets the approval and satisfaction of the cover for your particular school of college setting.  Give special attention to qualified First Aiders being presence at the school or college and the reduced staff levels when communicating with your insurers.

  • Will all children eligible for free school meals be classified as ‘vulnerable’?

    No. This would lead to too many children being in school. This needs to be limited both for public health reasons and to give schools the best chance to continue to provide limited provision for those children who most urgently need this.

  • Will parents/carers be able to decline an offered school place?

    Yes. Parents/carers can choose not to take up the offer of a school place if they would prefer their child to stay at home – and the government advice encourages them to care for their children at home if they can.

    It is expected, therefore, that only a proportion of children eligible to be offered a school place will actually take up that offer.

    For vulnerable children, the child’s social worker will work with parents/carers to assess the best option for the child.

  • What happens if the number of pupils in my school who are eligible for a school place, and wish to accept this, exceeds the number we feel we can safely look after with the staff available?

    Schools in this position are being asked to liaise with their Local Authority, to try to find places for some children in other schools. When establishing operational parameters, risk assessment control measures should govern all decisions made by schools and in conjunction with all other relevant parties.

  • What about special schools – many of which will have up to 100% of their pupils in one or both of these categories?

    At the moment, the guidance to parents says that the government is encouraging LAs to keep open both residential special schools and residential specialist colleges wherever possible, as well as the majority of day special schools and colleges. They say that this will be achieved, where necessary, by moving staff into these settings to avoid closure.

    Special schools, colleges and local authorities are being advised to make case-by-case basis assessments of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils and students on an EHCP. The government recognises that some children will be safer in an education provision, while others will be safer at home. They are trusting leaders and parents to make these decisions and will support them as required. We also understand that more detailed specific guidance for special schools is being produced. We will, of course, share this with members as soon as it is published.

  • How will children who usually take buses get to school?

    The DfE is “working with LAs to ensure that children can attend the best setting for them and will provide transport arrangements to support them”.

  • Will what happens continue under further notice?

    Not necessarily. Government recognises that schools and colleges are having to work incredibly quickly to ensure that provision continues for some children. If this situation continues for many weeks, it may be that a different long-term approach is required.

    Local Authorities are being asked to coordinate provision across their local area. It’s possible that this may involve consolidating provision in a smaller number of schools. Local Authorities will work with schools to agree this longer-term approach.

  • What advice does NEU have on assessment and exams?

    This year’s cancellation of the exam process undoubtedly presents challenges for leaders seeking to do the right thing.  The NEU encourages all leaders to work collectively with staff and union representatives when working through the Ofqual guidelines for assessment.  Be open with staff, who will often suggest solutions you may not have considered, and use the NEU guidance as well.

  • Do we know any more about how exam grades will be determined?

    We expect more information to be provided by government in the near future on the process and mechanisms to be used to ascertain a fair approach in exceptional times.

  • Social distancing during this COVID-19 crisis.

    Schools and colleges should be abiding by the 2-metre rule between persons and this should apply to staff and pupil/students everywhere within the school of college.  A provision of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff should be available and essential for those staff who are not always able to abide to social distancing in the workplace, due to the needs of the children they are working with throughout the day. 

    The risk assessment governing Covid19 should be discussed with staff regularly, daily if appropriate and practical to do so. The procedures to reduce the risk of catching or transmitting the virus is vital not only for the pupils/students and staff in school and college, but for reducing the potential burden on the NHS and society as a whole.

    Your risk assessment is your new operational plan which is both live, developing and needs constant review in conjunction with all those that can help.  Your staff, your union and its officers.

  • Should Independent Schools stay open during this current health crisis?

    The Government is asking independent and boarding schools to do the same as state schools and remain open where necessary for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. The NEU is encouraging all independent schools to follow this request to help key workers and keep our NHS functioning in this time of crisis.