UNISON today has issued guidance to all support staff members working in schools across the country over its opposition over the Government's unsafe proposal to increase pupil numbers from the 1st June.
We have sent to our members the position we are taking by email, you can read the full email here. The national Schools Committee expressed strong concerns around the following issues:
- Virus transmission – failure of the government to provide clear evidence around the transmission risk from pupils and staff.
- Social distancing – the impossibility of maintaining social distancing in schools and nurseries because of the year groups chosen to go back first, and the significant increase in numbers this would bring in some schools. The government recognises this yet is still moving on regardless.
- PPE – the government's guidance to schools on PPE is wholly insufficient.
- Testing, tracing and isolation – failure of the government to roll out a comprehensive strategy before any increase in pupil numbers.
- Travel – increased risks posed by pupils and staff travelling on public transport and when parents drop off or collect their children.
- Redeployment - concerns that DfE guidance will be interpreted to mean that schools can deploy support staff to do jobs they are not qualified to perform, protected to do or paid to undertake. Examples include using support staff other than cleaners to undertake cleaning duties and teaching assistants to take classes where they are not qualified or paid to do so. Schools must ensure that support staff are not required to routinely cover for teacher absence or lead classes. UNISON will not support any use of staff to support teaching in an inappropriate or un-agreed way.
- Cleaning - Schools and nurseries will need clear plans about how they will enable the additional cleaning required by government guidance. Additional staff and cleaning materials will be required before settings will be safe to open. Staff undertaking additional cleaning must be paid for these extra hours, including overtime premiums where appropriate.
- Early years – The government has acknowledged that it is not possible to apply social distancing among these children and unless adequate precautions are in place, staff and children in these setting will be placed at risk. UNISON believes that all nurseries must undertake risk assessments and have adequate measures in place to ensure safe re-opening before 1 June.
In addition, our members who are TA's being asked to cover for teachers is totally wrong. We are seeking that this be addressed by the Government urgently- we want teachers to teach and not expect our members to "fit in" when they can.
Nor do we want cleaners to be put at risk at the very heart of a school opening because schools do not have equipment or the PPE to ensure safe cleaning can be undertaken.
The advice we have sent out to members who work in schools is that they have the right to be safe and protect themselves. We will use legislation, including Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act to ensure that they can return to work safely.
UNISON is not convinced that the reopening of schools and nurseries can be done safely. We do not believe that sufficient levels of confidence exist at this time.
We will continue to work closely with all education unions both locally and nationally to agree safe plans for a return to work.
We do not want our members from all levels of the support services we represent in schools being placed at risk, nor do we want to put children's safety at risk either.
The decision to open on the 1 June without ensuring all the facts and evidence is being made available is worrying to our members and parents. We continue to encourage our members not to engage with plans to return to work on 1 June.
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