According to Government guidance (Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance for Schools and Other Educational Settings) all schools and colleges should remain closed, except for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. The guidance below applies to schools and colleges alike.
Regardless of whether a school is a maintained, academy or fee-paying school, the relevant local authority will be responsible for making arrangements for the provision of education for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. In practice the local authority will make arrangements to pool resources and school sites including putting staff on a rota to provide these services.
If your school announces that it is open or planning to reopen for more pupils and asks staff to return to work at school before the lock down is lifted, then it is a potential breach of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (the Act).
Section 37 and Section 38 of the Act deal with the Secretary of State for Education's (Secretary of State) or Devolved Ministers’ powers to order the temporary closure of schools (Section 37) and order their opening (Section 38) depending on advice from the Government's Chief Medical Officer and/or Chief Scientific Officer.
The current medical/scientific advice is that schools should remain closed.
Schedule 16 of the Act defines schools according to the definition set out in Section 4 of the Education Act 1996, and therefore covers maintained, academy and fee-paying schools.
The various provisions are enacted by secondary legislation in the form of Regulations and Orders etc. To date no Regulations are in place relating to Section 37 and 38 of the Act. However, Government guidance as mentioned above carries equal weight.
The bottom line is that schools cannot unilaterally decide to open despite the lock down. They may not do so unless the Government uses its powers under Section 38 of the Act to order schools to re-open. No such order is in place. This may change when the Government decides to relax the lock down.
If your school announces that it plans to re-open and asks staff to attend, NEU members will initially be advised to speak to their NEU workplace rep or contact the NEU adviceline.
Please note that employees still have their individual and statutory employment rights with regard to health & safety including protection against dismissal should they refuse to attend an unsafe workplace.