Safety update

  • Ventilation advice
  • Protecting those at greatest risk
  • Staffing issues
  • Behaviour
  • Advice

We are currently facing yet another critical moment in the pandemic, with the highly transmissible Omicron variant emerging as dominant. We know as NEU leaders that your priority remains to protect children’s education, and this means keeping staff and students as safe as possible from the impact of the virus. Given the highly fluid and fast-moving situation we cannot know with certainty what the situation will be in January.  We will closely monitor the situation and publish updated guidance in time for the start of term – keep an eye on our guidance here Coronavirus | NEU

Some schools are having to close early or move partly online.  For those that are still fully open into next week, our guidance is here.  As NEU leaders in schools and college we urge that:

  • Face coverings, which must already be worn, in line with Government requirements, by pupils and staff in secondary communal areas and by primary staff in communal areas, should be worn in all secondary classrooms by staff and students.
  • Higher grade medical masks (FFP2, FFP3) should be provided where requested by at-risk staff and pupils previously defined as clinically vulnerable, or clinically extremely vulnerable, or involved in close contact and personal care;
  • Ventilation measures should keep CO2 below 800 ppm in all occupied classrooms.
  • Measures such as one-way routes and staggered break times should be in place to minimise mixing between classes and year groups, improve distancing and cut crowding in corridors.

In addition, we suggest that our school and college leaders vigorously support the vaccination programme.  NHS staff have urged employers to allow staff time off work where necessary to have their booster or other vaccine at the earliest opportunity and we would expect schools to comply with this request.

Government requirements are that people who are fully vaccinated, or aged under 18 years and 6 months, and identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19, whether Omicron or not, should take a lateral flow test every day for seven days to help slow the spread, but do not need to isolate. The NEU urges schools to go further and encourage parents to keep sibling and other household contacts at home until a negative PCR test result has been received, to protect other pupils/staff and families.

Ventilation

On ventilation, the DfE has published its 'Marketplace' to help schools purchase air purifiers. The Marketplace is available for all state funded schools (primary and secondary), FE colleges and early years settings.  Alongside the Marketplace, the DfE has also published ‘how to’ guidance on using an air cleaning unit.

The NEU urges schools to be extremely wary of this Marketplace.  It offers only two expensive models (Dyson and Camfil) when there are other makes and models available at a fraction of the cost.  Given the nature of the Omicron threat, the Government should be fully funding these devices and at the very least should be helping cash strapped schools to get best value for money. We will continue to press the Government on this and have asked the schools minister why they are just promoting these two companies.

The NEU is not able to endorse any specific models or companies, but this list does offer a wider range of options so schools may find it useful to consult it before making any decisions on purchases.

Protecting those at greatest risk

The NEU continues to believe that measures must be taken to protect staff defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and others at the greatest risk – read our guidance on conducting individual risk assessments and our joint union advice on higher risk groups.

We know you will recognise the need for full consultation with staff on measures to ensure safety. The NEU is working nationally on behalf of all education leaders, while our joint union guidance and other advice will help ensure safety in your particular school or college.

      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.

          Other advice to help you as a leader