#Schools Update – 04/01/2021


It has been brought to our attention that some school members have been receiving a letter from some heads about attending the workplace. The tone of this letter is causing some members concern. We have seen similar letters from several schools. It appears to be based on a template, possibly from the LA, as its contents are similar to an email the branch had from the LA late yesterday.

We will raise it with the LA first thing this morning. We would like to reassure members that if they have used the model letter to inform the head of their reasons for working from home they have fulfilled the necessary conditions of section 44 to protect your right to withdraw from the workplace for safety and to suffer no detriment as a result.

URGENT Schools Advice!


This advice applies to all primary schools, special schools, SEND and early years settings in England.special schools, SEND and early years settings in England.

In UNISON’s view, it is unsafe for you to attend the workplace at present if your school is fully opened to all pupils.

Our advice is that you should decide to advise your head teacher or employer that you will not be attending the workplace but will be available to work remotely from home or only being in school supporting provision and the learning of key worker and vulnerable children if necessary.

Here is a letter for to send to your head teacher or employer:

Your model letter

When sending this letter, you will also be asserting your legal right to be protected against any detrimental action by your employer, including to your pay. This right is explained in full in the model letter.

Our advice applies for at least the first two weeks of term, the same period for which secondary schools and some primary schools have already been instructed by the government to move to remote learning.

UNISON is issuing this advice after careful consideration of the advice which was apparently given to the government by the SAGE advisory group and the current position on infection rates.

Safety in schools

We understand that SAGE has advised the Government that schools should move to remote learning in order to help reduce the rate of spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The advice given by SAGE has only been adopted in relation to secondary schools and to primary schools in some Tier 4 areas.  Given the overall increase in infection rates, however, we believe it is unsafe for schools to reopen in any area at present.

Infection rates are far higher than at the end of last term. This increase has been promoted by the new variant of the COVID-19 virus which was not properly understood at that time.  These developments mean, in our view, that the risk assessments in place in schools at the end of last term cannot now be relied on by employers to demonstrate that workplaces are safe in these changed circumstances. We are calling on all employers in all schools, whatever age group they serve and whatever the local tier of restrictions, to review their risk assessments and safety measures before asking employees to return to the workplace.

Face to face provision

We accept that schools may need to provide face to face provision for vulnerable students and the children of key workers and are also expected to open for some exam groups.

This should happen after risk assessments have been reviewed and appropriate measures taken to ensure safety, including for necessary social distancing and limits on group sizes.

We are advising members that they should agree to make themselves available to attend the workplace to support these students on a rota basis. The model letter you can send to your headteacher/employer makes clear you are making yourself available to work from home or to support with this limited in-school provision.

Petition to make schools safe and protect communities

Along with the teachers’ union, the NEU, we have launched a public petition calling on the government to use this period of remote learning to establish how quickly the new variant of the virus is transmitted, and to establish measures to keep schools more “COVID secure”.

Sign the petition

Next steps

UNISON’s national schools committee meets on Monday 4 January to decide next steps and we will keep you updated via email. Please also follow our Facebook page for the latest information.

In the meantime, please use the model letter to notify your head teacher or principal of your position.

UNISON Coventry City Branch

Call us on 02476 550829
email us at office@unisoncoventry.co.uk

Mass testing in #schools – #UNISON initial statement


Following the government’s announcement of mass testing in schools in the New Year, UNISON’s National Schools Committee secured a meeting with the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS Test and Trace, to take place on Tuesday 22 December. The government also announced that secondary schools and other schools with secondary-age pupils will move to online learning (except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children) in the first week of the winter term (4 January). The aim is to allow mass testing of all pupils and staff in those schools during the opening week.

UNISON believes this is hugely ambitious and that announcing this on the last day of term is jaw-dropping and gives schools very little time to plan. We think that most schools will not be able to deliver this.

Taking this into account and looking at the materials that the DfE has provided so far, the committee’s initial position is:

• We support mass testing in schools to try to stop the spread of the virus (on a sensible timetable)
• Any testing site in a school must be fully planned and risk assessed with union engagement
• Staff should only undertake the testing duty if they volunteer, and if they are comfortable with their competence after appropriate training – in line with Department for Education guidance ‘Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions’.
• Staff involved in the testing programme should have correct PPE, appropriate clinical oversight and clear guarantees around any potential liabilities
• The work of staff volunteering to participate should not be passed to other current staff, who are already overworked.
• Any additional staff time must be fully paid at the appropriate rate
• Due to the reported high percentage of false negatives generated by the ‘lateral flow test’ being proposed it should only be used as an additional measure. Bubbles and self-isolation, alongside all additional other safety measures, should be retained for the foreseeable future.
• Staff asked to take a test themselves as part of a mass lateral flow testing programme where cases have not been identified may do so voluntarily, but it should not be compulsory. UNISON encourages staff to participate fully in the testing programme.

Next Following our meeting with the DfE we will issue guidance for UNISON members for next term. In the meantime if you are being asked to do anything that contradicts the above points contact us for advice.

UNISON Coventry City Branch

Call us on 02476 550829
email us at office@unisoncoventry.co.uk

COVID-19 – Update for Members in Schools…


UNISON is seeking clarity from the local authority about receiving updated risk assessments where schools have experienced a COVID incident.

If you have experienced a COVID incident and are not clear about any changes to processes and procedures as a result of the incident please get in touch with us.

COVID-19 Update for UNISON Members in none Council or school workplaces


Our Branch continues to support members on a variety of workplace issues both COVID related and more general problems. If you are experiencing any workplace issues please get in touch for advice and support.

All employers should have risk management policies and procedures in place to deal with the current COVID crisis. If you have not been made aware of them ask your employer and get in touch with the branch

COVID-19 Update for UNISON Members in #Coventry #Libraries


UNISON has been working hard supporting colleagues in discussions with management around Library staffing, VERA’s, reasonable adjustments, and more. As a result, as Libraries move toward stage 3 of opening. Management have reviewed their VERA process and updated their guidance to staff. UNISON would like to reiterate that any member with health or other concerns should request a VERA and a meaningful discussion of the issues with management. We will be happy to support this process if required. Do not delay in contacting the branch for advice and support if you have any concerns.

COVID-19 – Update for Members in Schools…


A return to school with full classes, while coronavirus remains a threat, is a key moment for the nation. Members will have mixed feelings. We have an opportunity to address education inequalities made worse by the lockdown but government guidance on full opening has not been ‘world-beating’.

School leadership teams have been working hard to upgrade their risk assessments and have the necessary arrangements in place for September.

It will not be perfect. Schools are complex environments and the risk assessments reflect this. Inevitably, some things may have been missed unintentionally. The large changes required to working practices make it likely there will be some omissions and errors.

The start of the school year is a time to set expectations and routines for the children. These boundaries get tested and are reinforced and refined.

The same is true of risk management. The risk assessment and associated documents are a ‘work in progress’, they can and should be amended as needed.

If YOU become aware of a potential hazard that does not appear to be covered by the school’s risk management, UNISON encourages you to respectfully bring it to the school’s attention, or to UNISON, so that the matter is considered.

Don’t assume that leadership already knows about it, or that it is just something that has to be put up with. Your safety is important and it is your responsibility as an employee to report hazards. A good employer will value employees who work with them to improve workplace safety.

If you become aware of a positive test result in your workplace please contact the branch for advice and support.

The branch has worked through the summer to encourage the creation of robust risk assessments. Equally important to these documents is their implementation on the ground.

Again, if YOU become aware that the risk assessment is not being followed, please draw it to the attention of the school, or us. Mistakes will be made, and we would expect schools to be sympathetic to inadvertent and minor errors. We think it best that these issues are dealt with promptly and vigilance is maintained; to keep you safe.

UNISON has got your back.

You should check that the following points are being observed in your workplace;

  • Your employer will have consulted you and shared with you an updated risk assessment and related documents for September opening.  You will have received training on all the current risk management arrangements for the school.
  • Vulnerable employees, or those living with vulnerable people, will have had a Vulnerable Employee Risk Assessment (VERA).  This should address employees with underlying medical conditions, employees with characteristics known to put them at higher risk, caring responsibilities and travel plans.  Additional measures must be in place to mitigate the increased risk these employees are at.
  • The school will have secured ample supplies of PPE, cleaning materials and facilities to support regular hand washing, good hygiene, enhanced cleaning and protection for staff working closely with students.
  • All staff should be allowed to wear a face covering at work if they so wish.  We will support any member to exercise this wish.  We strongly recommend that staff working across classes consider this.  Regrettably, the government advice on this has been confused, and we have seen risk assessments stating there is no need for staff to wear masks.
  • All support staff should be undertaking their normal duties, within their job description.  We know TAs have been teaching full classes previously (we don’t support this), and that roles like HLTA’s do have additional responsibilities.  However, we are concerned that workload pressures on staff are likely to increase.  We don’t know how long we will be living with the COVID-19 threat, blended learning may increase workload, there could be pressure on staffing if we have virus outbreaks and staff have already suffered considerable stress since March.  It is crucial that we try to prevent further education disadvantage to children, so the working arrangements and wellbeing of staff must be sustainable.  

UNISON’s advice goes beyond the governments, and we’ve noticed that school risk assessments have not picked up our advice on monitoring workload and wellbeing.  Take care of yourself by working within your job description.

Contact us for our support on that and let us know if your workload is becoming a problem.

COVID-19 Update for @coventrycc UNISON members


As management begins communicating with staff about the reopening of #Friargate and other council buildings we would like to update you on the discussions held thus far.

Corporate management have been very clear that in opening these buildings there is no instruction to staff to return to them if they can continue and would prefer to work from home or in a more agile manner.

Corporately management have shared the work done in preparation of opening, including engineer reports on air ventilation systems, floor layouts, and changes to work practices to support a safe return to the office for those who would benefit from it. This information needs to be supplemented by service area rationales for return and local risk assessments and UNISON is waiting on some of this detail.

If you have concerns about a return to your workplace please get in touch with the branch as soon as possible so that we can offer advice and support.

COVID-19 Message ref front facing services


Some services have been operating, albeit very differently, through this crisis. We are increasingly having managers trying to talk to us about returning to a more open model in many service areas.

UNISON is clear that COVID has not gone away and that numbers of cases have increased recently in Coventry. With that in mind, we need to challenge rationales and ensure that members are kept safe at work.

We will be having these conversations in the coming days and weeks and if you are concerned about your work area then please contact us.