Wider opening of schools

Schools have now been allowed to open more widely than for vulnerable and key worker pupils.

The National Education Union remains concerned about the implications of wider school opening for school staff and their families, particularly those at risk, for children and for communities and that, for example, the government’s test, track, trace and isolate system will fail to work consistently and effectively.

Although many schools have opened more widely, many have limited or delayed this because of the NEU’s campaign for safer school opening. 

Whenever your school is planning to return, the NEU is there, with you, to ensure the safest possible return to school.

An NEU checklist must be completed before school wider opening. We can support you to do this and you will have the authority of the NEU behind you, ensuring a safer return to school for you, your colleagues and the children. The NEU has published checklists for primary schools and early years, for secondary schools and colleges and for special schools and PRUs.

The NEU has issued advice for staff at greater risk.  We do not think that vulnerable staff, or those living with vulnerable relatives, should be working in school. Please use the checklist to assess your situation and the NEU letter if you need to inform your school leader that you think it unsafe to be working in school.

The greater risk posed to Black* people from Covid-19 is well known. The NEU thinks that black employees should be protected in the same way as other staff who are clinically vulnerable. Black staff should also use this letter.

Convene a digital members' meeting as soon as possible.

If your members’ view is that working on the school site presents a serious and and imminent danger to yourself and others (pupils, parents, carers, their families and the wider community) – because you believe the risk assessment is deficient, our checklist reveals problems or because vulnerable staff or staff who live with vulnerable people are being required to attend school – then you should:

  • Download a copy of this letter. Amend Section 4 to add specific elements of non-compliance with our joint union checklist. Confirm that your members are happy to have their names added. Once you have gathered all the names, send that letter to your head and chair of governors as soon as possible, where possible attaching a copy of your completed joint union checklist confirming the areas of non-compliance.
  • If any of your members have any particular circumstances, they may wish to also send a separate letter available here. Advise them to download it letter and amend Section 3 to indicate any particular circumstances directly applicable to them. They should then send the letter to the head.
  • Send copies to these letters to your branch secretary.

If you experience any problems after sending these letters, or have any further questions about what you should do next, contact your rep, your branch secretary, regional office or, if necessary, the NEU Adviceline for further help and support.

The law protects you from detriment if you refuse to attend a place of work (or leave your place of work) that you have reasonable grounds to consider to be unsafe and to pose a serious and imminent danger to yourself and others.

The NEU will fully support any member who exercises this right and defend them from any detriment.

*Note: The NEU uses the term Black as a political and inclusive term of unity to signify the anti racist organising all people of colour – African, African Caribbean, Asian and all those that face racism as a result of the colour of their skin

How to use our checklist at your workplace:

  1. Complete our checklist for your setting and share with members. The NEU has published checklists for primary schools and early years, for secondary schools and colleges and for special schools and PRUs.
  2. Schedule a meeting as soon as possible with your leadership team to discuss checklist and agree an action plan to ensure compliance with the NEU checklist before any date for wider opening is set. 
  3. Arrange a virtual meeting of your members to discuss the NEU checklist and capture their feedback ahead of your meeting with the headteacher.Download our guidance for successful digital meetings.
  4. Use our Escalation Guidance below if necessary, including if your head won’t engage with you or if you disagree.

Model letter to headteacher

This model letter can be edited to suit your local circumstances and your relationship with the head teacher or principal.

Arrange a digital members meeting

Convene a digital members meeting as soon as possible and if your members’ collective view is that working on the school site to present a serious and and imminent danger to yourself and others (pupils, parents, carers, their families and the wider community) for example because you believe the risk assessment is deficient or because our checklist reveals problems or because vulnerable staff or staff who live with vulnerable people are being required to attend school, then you should:

We have this short guide to help you deliver a digital members meeting to discuss the checklist and ensure we represent members views collectively in discussion with your leadership teams. 

Here are things you can discuss with members and actions you can take: 

  • Download a copy of this letter. Amend Section 4 to add specific elements of non-compliance with our joint union checklists - see planning checklists above. Confirm that your members are happy to have their names added to that letter. Once you have gathered all the names, send that letter to your Head and the Chair of Governors as soon as possible, where possible attaching a copy of your completed joint union checklist confirming the areas of non-compliance.
  • If any of your members have any particular circumstances they may wish to also send a separate letter available here. Advise them to read this letter and amend Section 3 to indicate any particular circumstances directly applicable to them. They should then send the letter to the Head teacher.
  • Send copies to these letters to your branch secretary.

If you experience any problems after sending these letters, or have any further questions about what you should do next, please contact your local secretary, regional office or, if necessary, the NEU Adviceline for further help and support.  

The law protects staff from detriment if they refuse to attend a place of work (or leave their place of work) that they have reasonable grounds to consider to be unsafe and pose a serious and imminent danger to themselves and others. The NEU will fully support any member who exercises this right and defend them from any detriment.

Escalation guidance: what if my leadership team won’t engage or we disagree over safe reopening?

If your head will not engage in meaningful discussions with you or if the discussions with your head fail to reach agreement, especially if there is a clear intention to proceed to wider opening before full compliance with the Checklist has been achieved, there are a number of escalation steps you can take:

  1. Go back to members:

If agreement cannot be reached, it is important to speak to and update members on the key areas of disagreement. We believe that failure to agree the joint union checklist will mean that it is unsafe for staff, students and ultimately the wider community for the school to open more widely. We will provide model letters which outline the consequences of failing to secure full compliance with the checklist; you should adapt these to suit your local circumstances and request that members add their names to the letter before you send to the Head or Principal. This will reinforce both how serious the outstanding issues are but also that NEU members are united – never underestimate the power your collective voice has.

  1. Speak to other reps in your area:

You may also find it useful to speak to other reps in your area who will also be seeking to reach agreement on the checklist. Being able to tell your head that a large number of nearby schools are agreeing to the checklist could be powerful in moving management’s position.

Making sure you are part of a local reps WhatsApp group is crucial and your Branch/District Secretary will be keeping a full list of all schools that have secured full compliance with the checklist, building a critical mass of safe workplaces, and a list of those not yet in full compliance with the checklist and therefore not yet deemed to be safe to open more widely by the union.

  1. Escalate to your Branch/District Secretary:

If none of the above has enabled you to reach a position of agreement, we would suggest you contact your Branch or District Secretary. Your Branch or District Secretary will discuss issues of concern with you and members, approach the head and register, if appropriate, your school’s failure to comply with the Checklist with the Local Authority or MAT, dependant on the type of school you work in.

Next steps if issues not resolved

We would hope at this stage that the combined pressure from you, your members and the Branch or District Secretary will resolve the outstanding issues. If they do not, the Branch or District Secretary will escalate further to the Regional/Wales Office and discuss next steps with you; these may include:

  • Issue a press release and use your local contacts to create a local story. Use social media, particularly in cases where rogue heads are demanding unsafe and dangerous processes and procedures 
  • Consider a political response. How many local councillors have signed the NEU letter? Is it worthwhile contacting your local MP for support?
  • Consider a community response. Are there established community or parental groups that would support the NEU position? Is it possible to hold an online community meeting?
  • Escalate to Regional Office

However, if the school or college remains non-compliant with the Checklist and wider opening is imminent then you will need to seek immediate advice from your Branch Secretary and/or Regional Office who will provide model letters to submit to the Head or Principal and notifying members of their legal rights not to attend or to leave work if they believe they are in serious and imminent danger.

We have this short guide to help you deliver a digital members meeting to discuss the checklist and ensure we represent members views collectively in discussion with your leadership teams.

We are asking your local branch and district officers to support you and ensure members are represented during this period.

Find your local branch

We are asking your local branch and district officers to support you and ensure members are represented during this period.

Find your local branch and district officers’ contact details.

Rep recruitment drive

Many members are already stepping up to become NEU reps and to become part of rep teams to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

If there is a member who wants to be a rep with you, we will encourage them to speak with you first. Members can indicate they want to get involved using our form here.

Reps Zoom meetings