This joint commentary and checklist will assist reps in secondary schools and colleges in challenging what is being unrealistically expected of school leaders. It is structured in the same way as the joint union checklists for primary and special schools, but reflects the contents of the DFE advice for secondary schools and for colleges which is considerably less detailed than its advice for primary schools. The joint unions are publishing this joint commentary and checklist so that that union reps can begin to work closely with unions, staff and parents when developing their plans for extended opening when it is safe to do so. Regardless of the DfE approach, it sets out stringent standards which need to be met.

Post-16 members should read the joint advice agreed by NEU, other FE unions and the AOC when using this checklist. 

four unions

We have major concerns about the Department for Education (DfE) advice for secondary schools which is aimed at helping head teachers and principals to prepare for wider reopening of their school.

The DfE advice has put back the intended date of wider opening from 1 June to 15 June.  It says that: “We are asking secondary schools to offer this face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 pupils, which should remain the predominant mode of education during this term for pupils in these year groups. Our assessment, based on the latest scientific and medical advice, is that we need to continue to control the numbers attending school to reduce the risk of increasing transmission. Therefore, schools are able to have a quarter of the year 10 and year 12 cohort (for schools with sixth forms) in school at any one time.”  It recommends that attendance by students should be on a rota basis.

While the delay in wider opening for secondary schools to 15 June gives more time for planning and allowing schools to producing their risk assessments, at the moment there still seem to be huge risks even with this new date.  Implementing the steps as suggested is still likely to be a huge and unrealistic task for school and college leaders, who are under massive pressure, and impossible to accomplish in a way which will reassure staff that their health and safety, and that of the students, will be protected.  School staff will not be protected by social distancing rules nor, in most cases, will they be offered any personal protective equipment (PPE). This applies even more in colleges where the DfE expects a greater proportion of students to return.

Given that the science does not yet show that children do not transmit the virus, we believe that schools should operate in the same way as other workplaces and maintain social distancing in classrooms and in movement around the school.

This means that leaders must determine the numbers of students they admit according to maintaining social distancing of 2 metres between students, between staff, and between students and staff. The number of students in each class must be calculated accordingly. In most classrooms this will mean fewer than 15 students present at one time. It is for school leaders to make this decision, to keep their staff, their students, their families and their communities, safe.

The Government needs to step back from 15 June and work with the education unions to create the conditions for a safe return based on the principles and tests set out below:

  • Safety and welfare of students and staff as the paramount principle.
  • No increase in student numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme.
  • A national Covid-19 education taskforce with Government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools and colleges.
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage.
  • Additional resources for enhanced cleaning, PPE and risk assessments.
  • Local autonomy to close schools and colleges where testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases.

What the DfE says about the role of local authorities and trusts in respect of extended opening

The document sets out that head teachers should confirm their extended opening plans with relevant bodies (the local authority (LA) or trust), particularly their risk assessment, and consult with mayoral offices where relevant. It is also important to consult with the governing body which in some cases may be the employer, especially in the post-16 sector.

Our advice to reps

This is the wrong way round and not acceptable. The starting point should be that the LA or trust, or college governing body, as employer, provides a union-agreed risk assessment template and training for leaders on how to adapt it to the circumstances of the individual school or college.Health and safety reps have the legal right to be consulted on the risk assessment and future amendments. Also required is a reporting system to be in place to allow staff to urgently alert school and college leaders to any shortcomings in arrangements or where systems aren’t functioning as they should be. Also note that every school is unique and, whilst there will be many common features, each will need to consider any additional relevant risk factors beyond what is set out in this joint commentary and checklist. This will include when a high incidence of infections develops in a particular area.

Summary of checklist questions for reps to answer


Have you been consulted on the risk assessment for extended re-opening of your school? Are you satisfied that it addresses all key issues? Yes / No

Step 1 Deciding your priorities

How effective is the remote provision? Are the students who would most benefit from additional face to face contact the ones who have been invited to attend? Yes / No

Where possible students should not work outside of their allocated group

Are you satisfied that hygiene and social distancing arrangements will not be compromised by students moving between groups or the size of groups? Yes / No

Which staff are best placed to support these group of students? Will the needs of staff be considered as well as the needs of students? Yes / No

How often might students need to be in school to benefit from this additional support? Have staff who know students best been consulted? Yes / No

Step 2 Practical steps to reduce risk

Are you satisfied that these issues have been resolved to your satisfaction in time for the start of extended opening? Yes / No

Step 3 Reviewing staff for availability in school

Are you satisfied that safe staffing levels will be in place from when the school starts to open more widely? Yes / No

Step 4 Preparing the site

Health and safety check of the building

Are you satisfied that these checks will be complied with in time for extended opening? Yes / No

Cleaning and hygiene

Are you satisfied with the cleaning and hygiene arrangements that will operate from when extended opening begins? Yes / No

Movement around the school to reduce contact

Are you satisfied that staff and students will be able to move safely through the corridors and up and down stairs from the date when the school/college re-opens more widely? Yes / No

Step 5 External support for SEND and behaviour

Are you satisfied that these issues have been considered and that measures covering these areas will be in place in time for extended opening? Yes / No

Step 6 Changes to routine for staff and students

Are you satisfied that these issues have been adequately addressed before extended opening begins?  Yes / No

Step 7 Communicating with staff

Are you satisfied that this issue has been adequately addressed before extended opening begins? Yes / No

Step 8 Communicating with parents

Are you satisfied that parents are aware of what is expected of them? Yes / No

Step 9 Managing student and staff wellbeing and mental health

Are you satisfied that appropriate measures will be in place when the school begins to open more widely? Yes / No

For a more detailed step by step guide to questions for reps to ask, download the planning guide for secondary schools