Attending or not attending work

What happens to teachers or teaching assistants who cannot attend school due to ongoing childcare responsibilities? Will they continue to receive full pay?

The Welsh Government expects that all members of staff, who are able to, will return to school in September. Any members who still experience childcare issues need to speak to their workplace/H&S rep and/or line manager regarding this issue. It is important to receive a written response from your line manager. If you continue to face problems, please contact your local branch secretary or NEU Cymru for advice. Parents or guardians working in education, such as teachers, can apply for and get free childcare until August but unfortunately this has stopped for the Autumn term unless your local Authority has agreed to carry on with the scheme. Please note, WG have reopened the ‘child care offer’ for 3-4 year olds for the Autumn term, which you can apply for.

I believe I am still vulnerable to Covid-19 and I do not want to return to school in September. Am I able to still work from home?

We advise that you speak to your Line Manager about your concerns. Please ensure that you present all medical evidence to assist with the discussion.  It may be that you will be referred to Occupational Health who will be able to further advise the employer. The Welsh Government position states all those who are vulnerable may go back to work but can work from home if this is possible. Before any return to school the employer is obliged to carry out an individual risk assessment for those members who are vulnerable to ensure the premises and classroom is ‘Covid-Secure’ and social distancing can be adhered too as much as possible.  Please note that you will likely be asked to register and undertake an individual risk assessment using this online tool.

If you have a disability or long-term condition under the Equality Act, you would still expect your employer to undertake any ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Will there be advice or guidelines for the return to work of pregnant teachers or their partners who are not officially a shielding group at present?

The Union’s position remains that all pregnant staff should be able to work from home where possible. Please raise this as an issue with your Headteacher, utilising the Union’s Vulnerable Worker Risk assessment which you can find here.

You should not be required to start your maternity leave early.

The Welsh Government guidance states in their operational guidance:

“The advice to staff in this group is the same as it is to the wider population. As we continue to ease restrictions however, this group should continue to closely follow the guidance on social distancing and hand and respiratory hygiene.

Pregnant women after 28 weeks are specifically advised to work from home or in a non-public facing role in a COVID-secure workplace where 2 metre physical distancing can be maintained at all times. The Royal College of Obstetric Gynaecologists (RCOG) have updated their advice, RCOG “clinical advice for pregnant women on the risk and potential implications of being severely affected by COVID-19, particularly affecting those who are at 28 weeks’ gestation or above, still stands”.

Returning in September

Where does the responsibility for risk assessment in this situation ultimately end up with? The Headteacher, Governing Body, Local Authority or Welsh Government?

This will depend on the educational establishment but in a school, we would expect the Headteacher to carry out any risk assessment with appropriate advice and guidance from the Local Authority. The use of individual and organisational risk assessments at a local authority level must be used to inform PPE. Risk assessments should include droplet and contact infection risks. Risk assessments should already exist for learners with more complex needs, including those with emotional and behavioural needs and should be updated as a matter of priority in light of changes to provision.  Please note that the NEU have their own joint union checklist risk assessment for each sector on the website.

Can we have clear guidance on how to deal with behavioural issues such as fighting, spitting etc? Will PPE be provided?

This will need to be fully discussed and agreed with the school’s SLT as part of any return to work plan, regarding the expectations of pupils, staff members and SLT in regard to behaviour issues and how to deal with them. There will need to be an agreed protocol for dealing with continual and deliberate breaching of the social distancing guidelines and we would expect SLT to take full responsibility for dealing with serious issues such as deliberate spitting etc. that would put staff and other pupils at an increased risk. A risk assessment should be carried out on any learners that are known to pose a foreseeable risk in this regard that should identify any requirement for PPE to be made available. Further information has been provided by the Health and Safety Executive.

All staff should understand how to put on or remove PPE in the right order, safely dispose of the waste and use correct hand hygiene steps to reduce the risk of onward transmission of infection. Further guidance is available in Appendix 6 of the Infection Prevention and Control for Childcare Settings Guidance.

In any case, hand washing should always be practiced before putting on and after removing PPE. Schools and settings should contact their local authority to obtain PPE to cover the above. 

PPE should not be used as a substitute for social distancing, good hand and respiratory hygiene and regular cleaning.

Page 14 of the operational guidance states when PPE should be used in schools.

Should I wear a face covering when I return to school in September?

The NEU position is that if a member (especially one that was shielding or at high risk from the virus) wishes to wear a face mask at school they should be allowed to do so. However please be aware of the following.

The Chief Medical Officer has been clear that there is minimal evidence to support the widespread wearing of non-medical face coverings in the community.  Welsh Government guidance states that “Non-medical face coverings are recommended where social distancing cannot be maintained.”

They are not a replacement for far more effective measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene. 

Schools and settings should ensure, where possible that they organise the environment and they operate to ensure that social distancing can be maintained throughout a routine day. Considering the well-being of learners is critical to any considerations around whether staff or older learners wear face coverings. No one who may not be able to handle face coverings as directed (e.g. young learners, or those with special educational needs or disabilities) should wear them as it may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission. 

The impact of wearing a face covering for a deaf learner or learners with any level of hearing loss should be carefully considered, as communication for many deaf people relies in part on being able to see someone’s face clearly. The National Deaf Children’s Society has provided the following communication tips, which staff may find useful in this regard.

As science evolves the NEU is constantly reviewing the position regarding face masks.

The Welsh Government have also issued an FAQ document.

Will there be money available for the additional cleaners that will be necessary with more schools open – or is there an expectation that teachers and LSAs will do this in between sessions?

The Local Authority and schools will need to prepare a plan to ensure appropriate interim and deep cleaning procedures to protect the health and safety of staff and pupils.  Local authorities need to work closely with their schools to ensure the effective supply of hygiene and cleaning products. This will need to account for availability and the prioritisation of equipment.  Cleaning staff should fully understand the cleaning requirements. Local authorities should work with schools and settings to ensure that cleaning staff have appropriate training, products and equipment available to them in a timely manner.

Schools and settings should follow the latest cleaning advice in non-healthcare settings here.

Points to consider and implement include: putting in place a cleaning schedule that ensures cleaning is generally enhanced and includes more frequent cleaning of rooms/shared areas after they have been used by different groups;  frequently touched surfaces being cleaned more often than normal;  where possible, providing separate toilets for different contact groups. Where this is not possible, using hand sanitiser before entering the toilet and ensuring toilets are cleaned regularly will help. Learners must be encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

Staff who do not have cleaning in their job descriptions are not responsible for the cleaning of schools. However we would advise that staff should keep their own workstations clean during the day. As for setting up of their school, that should be considered in terms of what is being asked and in consultation with your workplace rep/s. We understand that funding has been provided to schools for cleaning.

How should schools manage the transportation of children?

Local authorities are required to assess the travel needs of learners who are aged under 19 in their area. This includes those who they are legally required to provide transport for and those for whom they may wish to provide discretionary transport when assessing travel needs. The Welsh Government has issued guidance on transportation, which will include the use of face coverings. The technical advisory group advice is here.

Please note this states: “Where public transport (including bus, taxi, train, ferry) is required for school aged children (up to the age of 19) to attend school, the general advice and guidance from Welsh Government and Transport for Wales should be followed. This currently includes the mandatory use of face coverings for those aged 11 and over, and physical distancing where possible.”

Do schools have to supply hot food as normal to pupils or should they all bring packed lunch?

Welsh Government expects that kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term and normal legal requirements will apply about provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for free school meals. 

Schools should of course deliver meals in accordance with the Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards and Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013. Those meals should be designed to reduce access to food and drink high in fat, sugar, and salt, and increase the take-up of fruit and vegetables and oily fish. Other food and drink provided during the day should also be based on the food and drink requirements of those Regulations. School risk assessments should be carried out to ensure school kitchens are ‘covid safe’.

We would expect children and young people to be eating their food within their contact groups. 

What precautions will be in place for ethnic minority staff? Especially as they will be in enclosed spaces with the children? If they are primary teachers what precautions will be in place for the instance where social distancing doesn’t occur?

This should form part of the workplace risk assessment.   Black educators can fill in the model letter to send to their employer.

Please see our vulnerable workers guidance document. Due to the increase in risk our advice is that black workers should be offered the same protection as those in the vulnerable category and be able to work from home if this is possible. Black educators are entitled to individual risk assessments to address concerns to ensure social distancing.

What is the current situation regarding toilet facilities, breaks and use of kitchen facilities?

Social distancing government advice should be adhered to which is a legal requirement in Wales.  A risk assessment needs to be undertaken of all communal areas in workplaces.  The number of staff using a communal area and toilets should form part of any such risk assessment.

One toilet would not be sufficient for 30 staff even in ‘normal conditions’.  It is likely that risk assessments will identify that more portable toilets will have to be supplied for staff and pupils.

The relevant legislation is the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Regulation 20, (The number of people at work shown in column 1 refers to the maximum number likely to be in the workplace at any one time)

Number of toilets and washbasins for mixed use (or women only):

Number of people at work     Number of toilets        Number of washbasins

1-5                                                                  1                                         1

6-25                                                               2                                         2

26-50                                                             3                                         3

51-75                                                             4                                         4

76-100                                                           5                                         5

Toilets used by men only:

Number of men at work          Number of toilets        Number of urinals

1-15                                                               1                                         1

16-30                                                             2                                         1

31-45                                                             2                                         2

46-60                                                             3                                         2

61-75                                                             3                                         3

76-90                                                             4                                         3

91-100                                                           4                                         4

Government guidance on social distancing should be adhered to.  These issues should be considered as factors in the formation of a risk assessment.  As an employer they must so far as is reasonably practicable, provide adequate and appropriate welfare facilities for employees while they are at work. 

A worker is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. It should be a break in working time and should not be taken either at the start, or at the end, of a working day.

Breaks should be staggered to stop over crowding of toilet areas.

Will staffed be trained on new ways of working in school?

The workplace rep/s should be part of any discussion in relation to training required for our members.  This should form part of the workplace risk assessments in conjunction with the Health & Safety Representative.  See advice on distance learning. Also note that the first 2 weeks of the term can be used as a transition period as per WG advice and we advise all schools should utilise this period to brief/train staff.

What checks will be made in classrooms in terms of ventilation, open windows, cleanliness and entrances/exits?

This will be covered by the NEU Checklist that reps will use when consulting on the School’s Risk Assessment. Also see the new joint checklist which covers these areas in regards to expectations concerning risk assessments.

Will I suffer a detriment in regards to my performance management appraisal due to the school closure period?

The Welsh Government has confirmed that no teacher should suffer a detriment in regards to meeting their PM objectives due to the lockdown. If objectives have only been partially met then this should be stated on the member of staffs profile but also stated it is due to coronavirus. Local Authorities and the Welsh Government know staff went over and above during lockdown by attending hubs and providing online learning and distance support for pupils/parents. Therefore there should be no reason why staff should not have achieved a good performance level and be recommended for pay progression. Also advice still stands that if there were issues with performance this should have been communicated to the member of staff in writing.

Our school is attempting to redeploy support staff to clean the school. Can they do this?

If you have a contract as a cover supervisor or as any other support staff within the school you cannot be redeployed for cleaning duties unless it is contained within your current job description.   Members employed as support staff should carry on working to their usual job description.

My school has arranged year-group assemblies for next term. I thought these were not allowed to happen?

Please ask your rep/H&S rep to bring this up as a risk assessment concern. It should form part of any school risk assessment. Contact groups should be kept apart where possible, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.

What measures have the Welsh Government taken to assist schools in coping with the “new normal”?

Welsh Government have given schools £29m in order to help schools cope during these uncertain times. This will help with attaining new staff or resources as necessary. In light of this, we would urge supply teachers to contact schools in order to show interest in any new staff vacancies that may arise as a result of this funding.  Whilst we welcome this new funding, we continue to press Welsh Government on further increases to school & college budgets.

Working entitlements in school or home

Teachers will be expected to do classroom teaching as well as distance learning so how will staff be able to manage the workload?

The Education Minister has said we need to think really carefully about what education is going to look like in this time.  She acknowledged that we are going to have to find a new normal.  There will be a need to plan for a blended learning approach that minimises the disruption to learning. There should be ongoing discussions between staff and SLT on workload issues. Quite clearly, teachers cannot be expected to undertake multiple home learning tasks with a full class timetable.

The Workplace rep should meet with the members and begin a discussion with management which should include a workload impact assessment. The Health & Safety rep – if you have one – should ask for a H&S Committee to be set up and workload should be on the agenda in each and every meeting. It is crucial that each workplace has a workplace rep and a H&S rep for these reasons. If you are interested in either role, please contact NEU Cymru.

For more guidance on distance learning, see hwb.

What are the expectations for a part-time teacher?

Part time teachers should carry out the same duties as full-time teachers but on a pro rata basis according to their contractual obligations.

What will specific teaching and learning look like for children staying at home when schools reopen?

Schools must provide remote learning for pupils who continue to be at home.

The Welsh Government have said they are looking for a blended learning approach which will involve online learning. All safety protocols, rotas and changes to normal duties should be negotiated rather than imposed.  Staff working in school or at home can only carry out a reasonable workload which should be discussed collectively.  Staff should not be asked to carry out duties which are clearly outside the scope of their job description and employment contract. Schools cannot seek to work normally. 

Please note that parents of pupils who have chosen to keep their children at home will not be fined at this time. See hwb.

I am a newly-qualified teacher starting my first job in September and I am worried about the effects of the coronavirus crisis on my induction.

The Welsh Government has amended its Induction Regulations so that newly-qualified teachers are not disadvantaged by schools’ new working arrangements during the coronavirus crisis. Guidance is available in the Induction area on Hwb

The amended Regulations came into force on 15th July, 2020, and will remain in place until 31st August, 2021.

Being furloughed 

Will Agency Supply Teachers continue to receive Furlough pay over the summer holidays?

Unfortunately, the position is unclear. The NEU believes you should be paid if your Furlough payments were calculated over 52 weeks. But some agencies are ending Furlough before the summer holidays so that they do not incur extra costs under the new flexible furlough scheme.

When asked in the Westminster Parliament whether supply staff could receive Furlough payments during the school summer holidays, the Treasury confirmed that they could be, but added ”where they are otherwise eligible for the scheme”. It is not clear what “otherwise eligible” means so the NEU has sought clarification from the Chancellor.

Some agencies are paying supply staff over the summer holidays; some are not doing so. It is important to remember that the Scheme does not create any employment rights, and is a purely voluntary scheme. This means that there is no legal redress should your employer disagree with the NEU’s position

What to do if you think your school isn't safe 

What would happen if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school?

The Welsh Government has given clear guidance on what to do under these circumstances.

All schools and settings must follow this process and ensure all staff are aware of it. Schools and settings should have a clear escalation policy and procedures in place if learners or staff begin to show symptoms of COVID-19 while at the school/setting.  

Those showing symptoms should be kept separate until they can be collected and taken home. Ideally, this should be in a separate room, supervised at a distance of two metres where possible, but recognising this may not be possible with younger learners. 

Surfaces that learners or staff with symptoms have come into contact with should be carefully and thoroughly cleaned. 

Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should stay at home and begin to self-isolate for 10 days while making arrangements to be tested. If the test result is negative the individual with symptoms will not be required to complete the full 10 days self-isolation period. Anyone who lives with someone displaying COVID-19 symptoms, or is in an extended household arrangement with someone displaying symptoms must stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person became ill or until the outcome of the COVID-19 test is known. 

The present advice is that it is not necessary to screen temperatures. Learners’ parents/carers can check for signs of a high temperature. In any case, screening will not identify all cases of COVID-19 and the means of checking temperature may put staff at greater risk of transmission, as well as cause worry or concern for learners. Staff should of course be vigilant for changes to learners’ temperatures and signs of fever.

Specific sectors advice 

What about FE Colleges?

See guidance from Welsh Government to help colleges for September. 

Learners attending alternative pathways (work-based learning, home / community tuition) haven't had the same clarity as schools with regards September. What about these learners?

Work Based Learning Providers will continue in September. The Welsh Government has published separate guidance for this.  Regarding home and individual tutors, these would be subject to risk assessments for each individual learner.  The Education Minister will clarify this in due course.

Will lecturers be given the flexibility to use programs and online platforms that learners are familiar with to improve engagement and seamless teaching and learning? i.e. WhatsApp and Zoom etc

This would have to be agreed with the individual colleges and would have to be in accordance with the agreed IT policy. The Joint Trade Unions have produced guidance on this alongside Colegau Cymru.

What has the Welsh Government done financially to help education to recover from the pandemic?

The Welsh Government has announced an investment for 900 extra staff for schools in Wales to help support pupils over the coming year.

Further, £50 million support package has been given to universities and colleges - £27 million to universities, £15 million for learners beginning their A-Levels or vocational courses at an FE College or sixth form, up to £5 million will be provided to support vocational learners to return to college to help them achieve their licence-to-practice qualifications, without needing to re-sit the full year, and an extra £3.2 million will be used to provide digital equipment, such as laptops ,for FE students. 

Whilst the Union will continue campaign for more funding for education in Wales, the above additional funding has been welcomed by the Union.

Download FAQs in Welsh