Coronavirus Resources Hub

Coronavirus Resources Hub

12/05/2020

HR Resources and Information on Coronavirus

From here you can access the information, Q&As and other resources we have developed - and are continuing to develop - in response to the coronavirus pandemic to support schools and colleges.

On this page we have a large range of Q&As covering the school closures, absence issues and other practical matters relating to the workforce.

14/05/2020: Additional school reopening guidance published by DfE

12/05/2020: Furlough scheme to be extended to October

11/05/2020: Government 'roadmap' and initial DfE guidance on schools reopening published; see latest

10/05/2020: Prime Minister says that some primary school pupils may return after half term; more details expected tomorrow

06/05/2020: Newly published - Staffing scenarios arising upon schools reopening

Questions and Answers

Closure of Schools to Pupils (except those of key workers and vulnerable children)

On Wednesday 18th March 2020, the Prime Minister confirmed that all schools in England would close from Friday 20th March for the foreseeable future, except to the children of key workers and vulnerable children. The aim during the closure is to provide a ‘safe place’ for a limited number of children rather than normal education provision and this does not require teaching the national curriculum. There is an expectation that provision for these children will also continue through school holidays wherever possible.

Since the school closures were announced we have been regularly adding to a series of questions and answers (below) based around the HR implications of the school closures. We continue to refine answers as and when further official advice is published or clarity provided.

This is an extremely uncertain time where usual HR practices may need to set aside in the interests of both expediency and fairness. Equally, not all questions can be answered with certainty. Do check back here for the latest information as we continue to update content regularly.

Government guidance: Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak (Gov.uk)

School Closure Q&As

Which parents count as key workers?

The guidance issued early on 20th March by the DfE states that the children of key workers should be kept at home where it is possible for them to be safely cared for. Where this is not possible, they will be prioritised for education provision. This is the case where "a parent" of the child is a key worker; it does not require both parents to be key workers.

Key workers are in the following categories (taken directly from the guidance). Note that school support staff were originally excluded from the list but, further to concerns raised, were subsequently included, alongside childcare workers. The government does not suggest how schools should determine which children are eligible for ongoing education provision based on their parents' roles. Many schools have simply asked parents whether they think they qualify. The DfE guidance does also state that parents should "confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service". Therefore not all parents whose role fits into one of these categories is automatically entitled to have their child prioritised for education provision, however practically speaking the onus is on the parent, not the school, to identify that they meet the criteria.

 

Health and social care

This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.

 

Education and childcare

This includes childcare, support and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.

 

Key public services

This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.

 

Local and national government

This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arms length bodies.

 

Food and other necessary goods

This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

 

Public safety and national security

This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.

 

Transport

This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

 

Utilities, communication and financial services

This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.

Which children are classed as vulnerable for these purposes?

The government guidance states that vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, disabled children and those with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

The guidance also states that headteachers will be supported in offering ongoing education in school to any other children facing social difficulties.

What will teachers and other staff be expected to do during the partial school closure?

Clearly, some teachers and support staff will need to be in school to maintain the minimum provision required. The government has not suggested how this should be organised and therefore it will be down to leadership teams to determine.

Relevant issues to take into account are likely to include:

  • Who is available to work given that some staff may already be off sick or in self-isolation;
  • The cohort of children who are to remain in school.

 

It is possible to organise a rota system to minimse the number of staff required to work on the premises and ensure that the work is fairly distributed. Other staff who are not required to be on site and are not in self-isolation or off sick will not need to be in school, unless their role is essential to maintaining minimum provison and homeworking is not a practical option. In all cases staff should continue to be paid as normal during the period of partial closure, whether they are in school or not.

Under the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) teachers can be asked to undertake a range of duties, including planning and teaching lessons to the classes they are assigned to teach, as well as assessing, monitoring, recording and reporting on the learning needs, progress and achievements of assigned pupils. The NEU and NASUWT have taken a different view of expectations during the partial school closure, asserting that teachers may reasonably be expected to organise and make available learning resources for children who would otherwise normally attend school, but should not be expected to plan lessons to be delivered during the period of COVID-19 school closure nor undertake routine marking of work. Legal advice indicates that this assertion has no legal or contractual basis and other teacher unions are not taking this approach.

Updated guidance for schools about temporarily closing was issued on 31st March 2020 clarifying DfE expectations that school staff working at home should continue to support the education of pupils, and the wider work of the school, in appropriate ways agreed with their school leadership team. School leaders should be mindful of staff wellbeing and practical circumstances when designing these arrangements.

What happens if the school cannot stay open to look after the children of key workers / vulnerable children, e.g. due to staff off sick or in self-isolation?

In these circumstances, the Secretary of State’s statement says that local authorities will work with the DfE’s regional teams to ensure an alternative option is available in the same area.

Updated guidance on school closures (issued on 31st March 2020 and since updated) states that schools may use temporary workers if alternative arrangements cannot be made with their local authority or trust to meet demand for places. The guidance also states that any schools that are unable to stay open should liaise with their local authority or trust about teachers providing support elsewhere and that teachers and other school staff should continue to be paid by their employer as normal, regardless of where they are working. Schools may also want to consider the use of properly supported DBS-checked volunteers in appropriate roles to maintain the necessary provision.

The DfE guidance suggests that parents whose child's school is closed should contact their local authority, who will seek to redirect them to a local school in their area that their child, or children, can attend.

Have the staff qualifications and ratios required in EYFS changed during COVID-19?

To support early years providers who remain open to vulnerable children and children of critical workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the government has temporarily disapplied and modified certain elements of the EYFS statutory framework. Full details of the changes to staff qualification and ratio requirements can be found in the document Early years foundation stage: coronavirus disapplications.

How does school closure affect probationary periods?

Probationary periods are defined in each staff member's contract, there is no automatic right for schools to extend them for existing staff just because the school has been required to close. Schools can extend probationary periods where provision for this is made in the employment contract. Schools may request that staff agree an extension to the probationary period where it is not provided for in the contract, but staff would be under no obligation to agree such a change.

For new recruits who have not yet started employment or signed an employment contract, schools can amend standard contracts to provide for a longer, or extendable, probationary period.

In the event of a school closure related to the coronavirus will agency workers be entitled to be paid if other staff continue to be paid?

After 12 weeks on an assignment, an agency worker will be legally entitled to basic equality of terms with staff employed in the same establishment. This does not mean that the employment status of the agency worker has changed; they do not become an employee of the hirer, they just become entitled to comparable terms.

Therefore if an agency worker has 12 weeks service they will be entitled to the same rate of pay as a comparable employee, so if a comparable employee is being paid during the school closure period, then the agency worker is likely to be entitled to be paid too, but only for the length of the agreed assignment.

In some circumstances the length of the assignment may be more difficult to determine, for example if the agency worker is covering sick leave on an open-ended basis. In these circumstances schools may want to assess how long the assignment might reasonably be expected to have lasted. 

In cases where an agency worker has less than 12 weeks service it is also possible there may be a contractual obligation with the agency and/or worker which would require the school to continue paying for the worker. Schools are therefore advised to check the contract they have entered into with the agency and/ or the worker. Notwithstanding the contractual position, the government's expectation is that agency assignments should continue until their end date (or presumed end date) even where there is no work to be performed, after which point the agency can furlough them (provided they are not working elsewhere). See our supply teacher and agency worker flowchart which outlines the government advice for education providers.

What are the expectations for special schools?

The government's FAQs for parents and carers on the closure of education settings states:

We recognise that children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) and their parents and carers are facing numerous challenges as a result of coronavirus. Residential special schools and other special settings should be supported to remain open, wherever possible.

Special schools, colleges and local authorities are advised to make case by case basis assessments of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils and students on an education, health and care (EHC) plan. For some, they will be safer in an education provision. For others, they will be safer at home. We trust leaders and parents to make these decisions and will support them as required.

Will staff who are not expected to come into work still receive full pay?

Yes. Any staff who are not required to come into work because they are not needed on site should still receive full pay based on their normal working hours. This is the case even if, due to the nature of their work or technological limitations, they cannot continue to work remotely. Such staff can be expected to work remotely where this is feasible.

Has the position surrounding pay for staff changed at all now that we are in lockdown?

Government advice on staying at home and away from others (issued on 23rd March and subsequently updated) states that travelling to and from work is only permitted where the work absolutely cannot be done from home. Before asking staff to work on the school premises, school leaders should first consider if there is any possible way that their role can be undertaken at home and, if this is not the case, that their attendance on the premises is absolutely necessary to enable the school to deliver provision for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. Any staff who are not required to come into work because it is not absolutely necessary should receive full pay based on their normal working hours. This is the case even if, due to the nature of their work or technological limitations, they cannot continue to work remotely. Such staff can be expected to work remotely where this is feasible.

I have a member on staff who has been taking unpaid leave due to concerns about passing the virus to a vulnerable household member, what are the implications of the lockdown on their pay?

Payment of usual salary during a period of enforced absence from work is generally made on the basis that staff are available, ready and willing to attend work but have been prevented from doing so by the employer (in this case acting on government advice).

We are aware of some cases where a period of unpaid leave had - prior to the school closures and lockdown - already been agreed with particular staff who wished to stay away from the workplace, for example due to fear of catching the virus or of inadvertently passing it on to a vulnerable person in their household. This was an acceptable arrangement at the time because the individuals concerned had chosen to be unavailable for work and this was agreed with the employer.

The situation has now changed insofar as the government directive is that all staff should only travel to work where work absolutely cannot be done at home. Staff should remain at home unless asking them to travel to work is essential to the delivery of provision for vulnerable children and children of key workers. Staff who were previously on unpaid leave and who are not essential to delivery should therefore - in the interests of equitable treatment - be asked if they now wish to end their period of unpaid leave and work from home (with an understanding that it may not always be possible to do much - or even any - work from home if there is insufficient work to do or the role is unsuited to remote working). 

Should schools continue to pay directly employed supply teachers during the school closure period?

Updated guidance for schools about temporarily closing issued on 31st March states that, as schools will continue to receive their budgets for the coming year as usual, regardless of any periods of partial or complete closure the expectation is that schools will continue to pay staff they employ directly in the usual fashion, and correspondingly not furlough them. This will therefore include directly-employed supply teachers.

What happens to zero hours or casual staff while the school is closed?

Casual or zero hours workers typically have no guaranteed minimum working hours, they will work only as and when required. Where such workers have already been offered work and have accepted it (for example on a roster for the next few weeks) then usually the school will be contractually required to pay the worker for the work they have already accepted, even if they are no longer needed. The exact situation will depend on what is written into the contract (e.g. with regard to how much notice must be given upon cancellation of work).

Where there has been no forward commitment to work then usually there will be no requirement to pay the worker unless and until you next offer work to them. Again, any written contract should be referred to.

You should be wary of contractual situations that may be incorrectly labelled. A casual worker who, in reality, works a regular number of hours most weeks, may have employment rights and therefore a school could not simply dispense with his/her services without risk. You may wish to seek HR advice if you have ‘casuals’ who might fall into this category.

Whilst the strict legal position may be that casual / zero hours staff do not need to be paid if their services cease to be used, schools can choose to exercise some discretion, bearing in mind the unprecedented circumstances, particularly where such staff have worked over an extended period of time and have come to rely on the work for a regular source of income. Where the school wishes to maintain an ongoing relationship with certain workers this will also help to keep them on board.

In respect of publicly-funded schools, in the government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme published on 27th March, it is stated that public bodies that continue to receive funding are expected to "use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion" (and not to place them on furlough). Whilst the scope of "staff" is not defined, it appears to apply to all PAYE staff regardless of contract type.

How much pay and for how long may need to be a judgement call based on such factors as how much work was already committed to, what pattern (if any) of work has been established and how long the contract was likely to have continued.

Some local authorities may have issued guidance in respect of the approach they wish maintained schools to adopt.

In education settings that are not publicly funded e.g. independent schools (or in publicly-funded settings where the salary for the role is privately funded) placing the workers on furlough and claiming via the Job Retention Scheme is also an option.

It may be that casual or zero hours workers will still be able to support the school in another capacity, including potentially providing cover during school holidays.

We have some freelance workers performing services for us on a self-employed basis. We do not need their services for as long as the school is only open for limited education provision. Can we cease paying for their services in the meantime?

Genuinely self-employed individuals who run their own business (such as freelancers or consultants) and who invoice for their fees are not employees and are therefore not entitled to statutory employment protections. Neither can they be ‘furloughed’ under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

There should be a contract for services in place which outlines how the engagement will work, typically including information on the nature of services to be provided, fees and the duration of the contract. The contract should also state in what circumstances, and how, the contract can be terminated.

If the school wishes to terminate or pause the contract because of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be possible to rely on a ‘force majeure’ clause in the contract, depending on the precise wording. If there is no force majeure clause, it is sometimes possible to rely on the common law provision of frustration of contract (which has the effect of bringing the contract to an end) instead, although the courts are generally reluctant to determine that a contract has been frustrated such that performance has been rendered impossible.

Either party to the contract can, of course, also seek to end or vary the contract by exercising the standard notice provision within it (subject to any associated terms).

The best starting point is to talk to those self-employed individuals that perform work at the school about the current situation and likely availability of work (in some cases, work may be able to continue in a changed or reduced form, for example) and the implications for the performance of the contract. Where you want to maintain a relationship with the contractor, it is preferable to pause or vary contracts where you can, rather than end them entirely.

Many self-employed people will be able to claim taxable income support equivalent to 80% of average income (capped at £2,500 per month) where their income has been negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak. This will be operational for at least three months but is unlikely to be up and running for claims before the end of June (although the claim can cover the period from March to May). Unlike ‘furlough’ leave for employees, the self-employed can continue to work whilst claiming income support so if there is reduced work for them to perform for you that will not affect their ability to claim.

Schools do not, of course, have to terminate or pause the contract and can agree an alternative arrangement with the freelancer to retain them over the period of school closure. In respect of the public sector, the government has stated that all bodies in receipt of ongoing funding should continue paying their staff as normal. This statement was, however, made in the context of staff on PAYE and doesn’t encompass the self-employed. If the government issues any further advice on the treatment of this category of worker in the public sector we will, of course, update this information accordingly.

What if staff are not required to be in school but it isn’t feasible for them to work from home?

For various reasons it is unlikely to be possible for all staff to work remotely. Unless staff are unwell or self-isolating, they can be expected to attend work where this is essential for the ongoing education provision. Bear in mind whether, in the circumstances, there is sufficient work that they can usefully do, either in their normal role or in work of a similar nature. Also take into consideration whether staff meet the threshold for greater social distancing measures (due to age, underlying health conditions or pregnancy) who are advised to stay away from the workplace where possible. In some cases it will simply be appropriate for staff to remain at home for a period of time, even if they are not actively working. This will not affect their pay.

How should we be providing staff cover in the school holidays and what would staff be paid?

As of 7th April we finally had confirmation from the government of the basis on which additional funding will be made available to schools.

With regard to expectations of staffing during school holidays (initially anticipated to cover the Easter and summer half term holidays) this guidance states that:

In order to protect staff wellbeing, and minimise any need for existing staff to work additional hours in order to cover the holiday periods, schools should consider:

  • adopting rota systems to cover holidays, and offering staff time off in lieu for this
  • approaching the local authority or academy trust to check whether staffing support is available from other institutions
  • making appropriate use of their supply budget

 

In summary, therefore, a 'time off in lieu' (TOIL) system should be adopted where possible. We know that many schools have adopted this approach. Others may have chosen to, or been forced to (for want of volunteers for a TOIL-type arrangement) offer pay instead. The government guidance seems to suggest that any such additional costs will need to be absorbed.

Whilst this guidance was published too late to inform Easter holiday arrangements, schools will wish to have regard to this for the summer half term arrangements.

Whilst the additional holiday cover can be provided by teachers, it could equally be provided by support staff (e.g. teaching assistants, or by staff hired in specifically for the purpose, such as sports coaches) as it is essentially about offering childcare.

Where a TOIL system is operated, it is preferable to agree in advance which blocks of weeks will be taken in lieu.

Are schools expected to open on the early May bank holiday?

The guidance document Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak was updated on 28th April and states that schools should decide, in consultation with the parents of children who are currently attending school, whether it is necessary for them to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children on Friday 8 May 2020.

What about staffing ratios during the closure (in early years and Reception)?

Early Years Foundation Stage

Prior to 24th April 2020, the government guidance was that, as per paragraph 3.30 of the EYFS, coronavirus was considered by the government to be an "exceptional temporary circumstance" in which the staff to child ratios set out in the EYFS could be changed if necessary. The government was, however also planning to amend regulations that would allow for the temporary lifting or modification of a small number of requirements within the EYFS statutory framework, with the aim of giving settings flexibility to respond to changes in workforce availability and potential fluctuations in demand while ensuring children are kept safe. These amendments took effect from 24th April and will continue for as long as deemed necessary.

In summary, the changes are as follows:

Learning & Development / Assessment

  • Settings will not be required to meet the existing learning and development requirements during the coronavirus outbreak but should use reasonable endeavours to do so.
  • Settings will not be required to undertake the progress check at age 2 during the coronavirus outbreak and the Early Years Assessment Stage Profile (EYSFP) will not need to be undertaken during the 2019/20 academic year.

Staffing Ratios

  • Ratio requirements will remain as set out in the EYFS with the flexibility that already exists for exceptional circumstances. In addition, during the coronavirus outbreak exceptions can be made to the qualification level that staff hold in order to be counted in the ratio requirements. Settings should use reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least half of staff (excluding the manager) hold at least a full and relevant Level 2 qualification to meet staff:child ratio requirements, but this will not be a legal requirement.
  • In maintained nursery schools and nursery classes in maintained schools caring for children aged three and over, settings should use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least one member of staff is a school teacher and one other member of staff holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification. Where it is not possible to ensure at least one member of staff is a school teacher, settings should follow requirements applicable where there is not someone with a suitable level 6 qualification working directly with the children (i.e. there must be at least one member of staff for every eight children, at least one member of staff who holds at least a full and relevant level 3 qualification and providers should use their reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least half of other staff hold at least a full and relevant level 2 qualification).

Paediatric First Aid

  • Paediatric First Aid requirements will remain unchanged where children aged 0-24 months are on site, and for childminders.
  • Where children aged 2-5 are on site, settings (except childminders) will be required to use best endeavours to have someone with full Paediatric First Aid (PFA) certification on site at all times, and where this is not possible they must ensure someone with First Aid at Work or emergency PFA is on site and carry out a written risk assessment.
  • New entrants (levels 2 and 3) will not need to undertake a Paediatric First Aid course within their first 3 months in order to be counted in staff:child ratios during the coronavirus (COVID-19) period.

Fuller information about these modifications, including more information on staffing ratios in different settings and on carrying out a risk assessment where there will be no member of staff with a full paediatric first aid certificate on the premises, is available in government guidance.

 

Reception Classes

Reception class sizes are governed by legislation and although it was mooted early on that restrictions would be temporarily lifted we can find no indication at present that these have been, or will be, relaxed. We will update this Q&A with any further information arising.

What about staff who have childcare issues of their own?

There may be some staff who cannot attend school because of their own childcare issues.

In normal circumstances this would be treated as 'time off for dependants' and, subject to the provisions of any local policy, unpaid under the statutory provisions. These are no longer, however, normal circumstances and schools should consider what supportive measures they are able to offer staff in order to maintain normal pay. These may include considering flexible working arrangements, working from home, adapting work patterns, reducing hours by mutual agreement or granting time off (e.g. special leave).

Also bear in mind how you are treating other staff. It would not be appropriate to reduce pay for someone with childcare difficulties in circumstances where you have other staff off work on full pay because, for example, they are not required on site and cannot work remotely.

Could staff be required to work in a school other than their own?

In updated guidance on school closures published on 31st March the government confirmed that staff may be asked by their employer to work in different locations to help maintain the required provision during this challenging period. The DfE has asked all those working in schools to be flexible when considering whether to make, or agree to, such requests. Whether an individual can be required to work in an alternative setting will depend on their individual contract of employment.

Do teachers and other school staff require new DBS checks to work in an alternative setting?

Guidance for schools about temporarily closing confirms that where members of the school workforce are already engaging in regulated activity, and already have the appropriate DBS check, there is no expectation that a new DBS check should be obtained for them to temporarily move to another setting to support the care of children.

The type of setting on the DBS check for example, a specific category of school, is not a barrier. The receiving setting should risk assess as they would for a volunteer under the statutory guidance document, Keeping Children Safe in Education.

Whilst the onus remains on schools to satisfy themselves that someone in their setting has had the required checks in these circumstances, this can be achieved through seeking assurance from the current employer rather than requiring new checks.

How can those staff who are expected to keep working in school reduce their risk of catching coronavirus?

Social distancing arrangements should continue alongside the currently-advised hygiene precautions. Pupils should be encouraged to adhere to the same principles, e.g. around regular handwashing. Enhanced cleaning measures should be maintained, e.g. with increased focus on high-touch areas.

As before, if anyone (pupils or staff) becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature in an education setting they should be sent home and advised to follow the staying at home guidance.

Will the period of school closure affect teachers’ eligibility for pay progression in September?

There is no reason why it should. As for teachers who have had an extended period away from work in other circumstances, such as maternity leave, it will be possible to assess teachers’ performance based on a reduced appraisal cycle as necessary. It will probably also be necessary to adjust teachers’ appraisal objectives, or accept that they cannot be met in full, in light of the unprecedented disruption.

How does the school closure affect NQTs who are currently undergoing induction?

The government has announced that it will be making regulatory changes, subject to parliamentary agreement, which will mean that NQTs who are absent for reasons relating to the coronavirus (including school closures) outbreak will not have their induction period automatically extended. This will allow such NQTs to complete their induction this academic year, subject to meeting the Teachers’ Standards. Due to the current disruption, a judgment on this may need to take into account previous assessment records, discussions with the induction tutors and consideration of non-routine teaching practice during the school closure.

Where a NQT has not achieved the standards by the end of induction, headteachers and appropriate bodies are being encouraged to exercise their discretion to recommend an extension.

Induction should, however, continue during the school closure in the meantime. Evidence should still be collected and NQTs should continue with their professional development as well as maintain frequent contact with their induction tutor and/or mentor.

What will happen about trainee teachers who cannot complete their 24 weeks of school practice to qualify for QTS because of school closures?

The Education Secretary confirmed earlier in March that trainee teachers in this situation will have the 24 week requirement waived and will therefore still be able to gain QTS. Revised mandatory guidance on the criteria that organisations must meet to provide initial teacher training (ITT) was published on 27th March 2020 confirming that trainee teachers will be able to qualify by the end of the academic year, based on their “current trajectory of progress”.

What changes will be made to initial teacher training (ITT) ?

 

The Department for Education published guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19): initial teacher training (ITT)  on 7th April 2020. The guidance covers:

  • how to manage courses for current trainees in the 2019 to 2020 academic year
  • how to make recommendations for qualified teacher status
  • how to manage the delivery of different routes
  • guidance on recruitment and selection for the 2020 to 2021 academic year

 

On May 7th the guidance document  Advice for providers looking to offer early years initial teacher training (ITT)  was also updated in light of Coronavirus (COVID-19) covering:

  • accreditation
  • entry levels
  • training
  • management and quality assurance
  • employment-based routes

Addressing Absence Issues

Updates from gov.uk indicate the risk to individuals of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been raised to high. 

As this is an evolving situation, the latest government advice for schools and for employers should be consulted. This covers what to do if pupils or staff become unwell following potential exposure to COVID-19, if cases are suspected or confirmed or if pupils or staff have had contact with a confirmed case. Schools should also have regard to any advice issued by their local authority.

Pupils and staff  may be required to self-isolate in a range of circumstances.  For staff, this therefore raises the question of how such absence should be treated for employment purposes.

We’ve developed a range of questions and answers dealing with self-isolation and the impact on pay as well as the wider staffing issues associated with managing absences and dealing with cover.

 

Absence and Cover Q&As

Can I require a member of staff to stay away from work if they have returned from a high-risk area or have been in contact with an infected person?

On health and safety grounds, an employer can require an employee not to attend work, both in the interests of his/her own health and also that of other workers. Don’t automatically assume, however, that just because someone has travelled from an area where cases of coronavirus have been reported they will always need to self-quarantine. You should check what the current public health advice is on self-isolation based on the employee’s particular circumstances.

If staff are required to self-isolate will they be entitled to pay?

Any employee who is asked not to attend work by his/her employer (e.g. as a precautionary measure following travel to an affected area) should receive their normal pay.

With no statutory right to pay if staff are not sick, the government has, as of 25th February, advised employers to treat periods of self-isolation (where recommended by NHS 111 or PHE) as sickness absence and "use their discretion around the need for medical evidence". The Health Secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed to the House of Commons that self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes”. In cases of self-isolation, therefore, employers do not need to obtain a sick note directly from a GP or other medical practitioner where absence extends beyond seven calendar days. An alternative option, launched on 20th March 2020, is to ask the employee to provide an isolation note for absence beyond seven days, which is now available to request online.

On 4 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced in Parliament that the Government will introduce, as part of its emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow statutory sick pay to be paid from the first day of sickness (rather than after three waiting days).

There may be specific provision for dealing with infectious disease contact within any relevant collective agreement or the employee’s contract of employment, so these will need to be consulted as necessary. The main agreements affecting schools are:

Green Book (NJC for Local Government Services): Support staff in schools employed under Green Book terms and conditions are entitled to receive normal pay when prevented from attending work because of contact with an infectious disease. Local authorities or academy trusts with their own support staff terms and conditions may well have a similar provision in place but you may need to check if unsure.

Burgundy Book (School Teachers) / Red Book (Sixth Form Teachers): Teachers employed under Burgundy Book or Red Book terms and conditions are entitled to be paid full pay for any required absence resulting from someone living in the same house having an infectious disease. The provision also applies where there is infectious disease in the workplace and it is inadvisable for a teacher to attend for “precautionary reasons”. In all cases, the opinion of an ‘approved medical practitioner’ is referred to, however in the current circumstances, where the teacher/school is following public health advice, it should not be necessary for the employee to take separate medical advice.

The Burgundy Book / Red Book do not specifically address the situation where a teacher may need to self-isolate for other reasons (e.g. travel to an affected area or showing mild symptoms), however in the interests of fairness and equitable treatment some latitude in interpretation may be necessary. Bear in mind the government advice that self-isolation should, in any event, be treated as sick leave.

If staff are self-isolating but not showing symptoms, will the absence count against sickness entitlement?

Again, this will depend on the terms and conditions of employment. Teachers employed under the Burgundy Book or Red Book who are required to self-isolate in the circumstances described above are treated as receiving ‘sick pay’ but any such absence will not count against the individual’s entitlement to occupational sick pay.

Under the Green Book any period of absence relating to self-quarantine will not count against the individual’s sickness entitlements.

Schools not using Green or Burgundy Book terms are advised to check their own terms and conditions to ensure staff are paid correctly for any period of absence due to self-isolation. As previously noted, government advice is that periods of self-isolation should be treated as sick leave.

If the school has agency workers that have been with them for more than 12 weeks, will they be responsible for paying them if they self-isolate?

After 12 weeks in a given job, an agency worker will be entitled to basic equality of terms with staff employed in the same establishment. This does not mean that the employment status of the agency worker has changed; they do not become an employee of the hirer, they just become entitled to comparable terms. Certain terms and conditions are excluded from the agency regulations including occupational sick pay. Agency workers have a statutory entitlement to SSP (if they qualify for it) which is paid by the agency. If an agency worker needs to self-isolate the agency will be responsible for paying the SSP.

HR customers can access detailed guidance on the Agency Worker Regulations in the appointing volunteers and atypical workers area of the website.

Can we ask self-isolating staff to work from home?

The CIPD advises employers to be flexible and make home working easier where possible. If working from home is an option it should be offered, schools have a duty of care towards their staff and working from home when possible will be helpful for vulnerable groups of staff including pregnant employees and those with immune or respiratory conditions.

What about self-isolating staff showing mild symptoms, can we ask them to work at home?

If a member of staff has been asked to self-isolate by the school on the advice of Public Health England because they are experiencing mild symptoms, schools may ask whether the member of staff feels that they are still fit for work, despite their symptoms. It is reasonable for  the school to explore opportunities for homeworking only if the staff member concerned:

  • reports they are well;
  • regards themselves as fit for work despite their mild symptoms; and
  • confirms that they would have been ready and willing to attend work before being asked to self-isolate.

 

If the staff member chooses to undertake some work from home in these circumstances, the staff member's line manager should maintain regular contact and make it clear that there is no expectation that work should be undertaken if the staff member's physical symptoms deteriorate and they become too ill to attend work (had attending work been an available option).

Can staff who are self-isolating and showing symptoms of COVID-19 get tested?

From 23rd April the key workers within education (including support and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals)  can apply for testing with their household members provided that they are self-isolating due to  coronavirus symptoms or living with someone who has coronavirus symptoms. 

Self-isolating staff displaying symptoms can either refer themselves for testing via the government website or ask their employer to refer them. Employers can make use an online portal to upload the full list of names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers. Further details of how schools can access the portal and refer staff for testing can be found on gov.uk.

From 19th May everybody in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland showing any of the symptoms of coronavirus, can ask for a test through the NHS website.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has also recently released detailed guidance regarding workplace testing of employees for Coronavirus. to assist employers in remaining compliant with current data protection law.

 

What is the difference between self-isolation and social distancing?

Self-isolation is a necessary response advised by Public Health England to protect others while you are infectious or may be infectious. If you have either:

  • a high temperature
  • a new continuous cough

 

you must stay at home for 7 days (and those in your household must stay at home for 14 days after the start of the first person in the household becoming ill).

You can find more detail on household isolation on gov.uk.

Social distancing measures should be taken by everyone to reduce transmission of COVID -19. Those at risk of severe illness are advised to be “particularly stringent” in following these measures.

More advice on social distancing can be found on gov.uk

The government published detailed advice on 24th March 2020 (and since updated) for schools regarding implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings.

Is there any specific advice available for pregnant staff?

In the guidance on social distancing, published by Public Health England on 16th March 2020, pregnant women were advised that they are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus and to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. The advice indicates that, where possible, employers should support pregnant staff to work from home. If this is not possible adjustments such as a variation in working hours, e.g. to facilitate avoidance of public transport during rush hour, will reduce social interaction and reduce the transmission of coronavirus. On 24th March, the government issued guidance on  implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings which advises that staff with conditions that mean they are at increased risk of serious illness as a result of coronavirus (including pregnancy) should work from home where possible, and education and childcare settings should endeavour to support this.

Pregnant staff with additional complex health problems (defined in the guidance provided by Public Health England) are deemed to be at particular risk and detailed guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 was issued on 24th March. Pregnant staff with additional complex health problems are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the date they receive a letter from NHS England (this letter should arrive on 23rd March and no later than 29th March 2020). The guidance on implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings confirms that education staff with serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus need to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe and that staff in this position must not attend work.

Employers have a duty of care to carry out a specific risk assessment in relation to all pregnant staff, those breastfeeding or who have given birth in the previous six months, where working conditions could involve a risk of harm or danger to the health and safety of the mother. Where a risk has been identified which cannot be adequately controlled, the school must alter the individual’s work conditions or hours or, failing this, must suspend her on full pay for as long as the risk remains. HR customers can consult the Maternity and Rights and Benefits Guidance document in the Maternity Leave and Pay area of our website for more information.

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists have published advice and information for pregnant women and their families. This can be found at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/.

 

What if pregnant staff have difficulties obtaining documentation from the NHS?

The impact of the virus has placed excessive pressure on NHS services. If a pregnant staff member is unable to obtain a certificate confirming her expected week of confinement (EWC) schools should accept the date provided by the staff member until such time documentation from the NHS is available.

Some pregnant staff and other vulnerable groups are expected to self-isolate from Monday 23rd March - does this count as a pregnancy-related absence and will it trigger compulsory maternity leave 4 weeks prior to the expected week of childbirth?

The prime minister announced at the press conference on 16th March that, from Monday 23rd March, vulnerable groups (including pregnant women) would be asked to self-isolate for up to 12 weeks. The government has now published detailed guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 with advice regarding groups in this category, which includes women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

If a staff member is pregnant and required to self-isolate on the grounds of being pregnant and suffering significant heart disease, congenital or acquired, from 23rd March, has not already started their maternity leave and is still self-isolating as at the 4th week before the expected week of childbirth, we expect that their maternity leave will start automatically at the start of the 4th week before the expected week of childbirth. This is because the absence due to self-isolation in this case will be equivalent to a maternity suspension on health & safety grounds.

How do I know which staff are in the clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable categories?

The guidance document Staying at home and away from others (social distancing)  was updated on 1st May 2020 and defines clinically vulnerable people as:

  1. aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  2. under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
  • chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets
  • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  • pregnant women

 

There is a further category of people with serious underlying health conditions who are clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning they are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 defines clinically extremely vulnerable people as those in the following categories (however disease severity, history or treatment levels will also affect who is in the group): 

  • Solid organ transplant recipients.
  • People with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
    • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
    • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD).
  • People with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

 

People who fall in this group should have been contacted to tell them they are clinically extremely vulnerable.

What are shielding measures? Should clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable staff be working on school premises?

On 21st March guidance was issued on "shielding" which is a measure to protect people who are defined within the guidance as  "clinically extremely vulnerable" by minimising all interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others.  Staff who meet this definition are strongly advised to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe. Shielding is for personal protection, it is the choice of each individual to decide whether to follow the measures advised. Staff in this category are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks. The NHS in England is directly contacting people in the "clinically extremely vulnerable" category to provide further advice.

As stated in the guidance it is a personal choice as to whether a staff member classified as “extremely vulnerable” follows the government advice, however schools have a duty of care to their staff and are required to take all necessary precautions to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff  by controlling risks to injury and health, doing whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. 

Updated guidance for schools about temporarily closing was issued on 31st March 2020 and clarifies that schools should not be facilitating extremely vulnerable staff to attend work on the school premises and these staff must not attend work. Clinically vulnerable staff should work from home where possible and schools should endeavour to support this.

Can I ask other staff to cover for absent employees?

Covering for teachers: Since the implementation of ‘rarely cover’ arrangements in September 2009, teachers in maintained schools (and academies or other independent establishments where national provisions have been adopted) are required to cover for absent colleagues only in circumstances where the absence was not foreseeable. There are similar, though not identical, arrangements in place in sixth form colleges. In urgent situations, therefore, teachers can be required to provide cover. Teachers who are employed wholly or mainly to provide cover are exempt from the ‘rarely cover’ arrangements and can, of course, be directed to provide cover as required. In-year changes to the timetable can also be made where there is a sound educational basis and changes are not frequent. These cover arrangements have, to some extent, been superseded in practice by the current partial school closures, during which time most schools are operating on a rota system as there is no longer a normal timetabled teaching week.

Covering for support staff: Work can be reallocated to support staff in a similar role. No employee should, however, be required to perform work which is not appropriate for them to undertake, having regard to the employee’s current duties, position, skills and qualifications.

What if employees don’t want to come to work because they perceive there to be a risk of infection e.g if they live in the same household as a vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable person?

ACAS suggests that, if employees don’t want to come to work because of a fear of catching coronavirus, their concerns should be listened to and – if genuine – the employer should try to be accommodating by considering ways of resolving the concerns (which could include flexible working options, for example). Alternatively, a period of holiday or unpaid leave could be agreed, though the employer does not have to agree to this. An employee who unreasonably refuses to attend work could be subject to disciplinary action.

If the school decides that a staff member’s attendance on school premises is essential to maintain school provision for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children and the staff member refuses to work on a rota basis due to concerns that they may transmit the virus to a vulnerable household member, the school should fully explore if there is any way they can work at home. If they cannot perform their work from home the school is not legally obliged to pay the staff member, however it would be inadvisable to withhold pay unless the staff member is clearly being unreasonable in their request. Schools will need to be mindful of treating staff equitably particularly as some staff may be at home due to the lockdown on full pay but unable to complete any work from home.

Government guidance was issued on 24th March on implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings which clarified that if a member of staff lives with someone in a vulnerable health group, including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting as the number of social interactions in the education or childcare environment will be reduced, due to there being fewer children attending, and social distancing and good hand hygiene being practiced. The guidance document Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak updated 19th April 2020 also advises that staff who live with someone in the most vulnerable health groups (as defined in the guidance on shielding) should only attend work if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and settings should  allow these staff to work from home where possible.

What if staff need to take time off to care for someone else who is unwell, e.g. child or other dependant?

Where the need to look after a dependant arises unexpectedly (for example a child, or an elderly or disabled relative), an employee may need to take time off to care for him/her. Employees have a statutory right to take unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen events relating to their dependants. This does not, however, provide the right to take extended leave, only to take what time is reasonably required to allow the employee to deal with the unforeseen event and to arrange ongoing care if necessary.

In cases where one or more dependants is required to self-isolate, where it is less likely that alternative care arrangements can be made, schools should consider what supportive measures they are able to offer staff. These may include considering flexible working arrangements, working from home, adapting work patterns or taking agreed time off (e.g. as special leave).

Green Book (NJC for Local Government Services): The NJC issued new advice on 6th March 2020 that if a staff member is caring for someone who has or may have coronavirus, this period of absence should also be regarded as self-isolation. Since the staff member may have been in direct contact with the virus, home working arrangements should be explored where possible for the duration of the incubation period. Support staff in schools employed under Green Book terms and conditions are entitled to receive normal pay when self-isolating and are prevented from attending work because of contact with an infectious disease. Local authorities or academy trusts with their own support staff terms and conditions may wish to consider mirroring this advice.

Can I ask staff to cancel or postpone annual leave because of staff shortages?

In schools where support staff are employed on a full year (rather than a term time only) basis and annual leave is requested in term time it may be necessary to refuse the leave request, or ask staff to cancel or postpone it, to maintain service delivery if large numbers of staff are off sick or self-isolating.

In such cases it is essential under the Working Time Regulations 1998 that appropriate notice (equal to the length of annual leave requested) is given. For example, if  a staff member has requested one week’s leave they must be given at least one week’s notice that the leave has not been approved. The same notice requirements apply if annual leave needs to be cancelled or postponed e.g. one week's notice must be given to the staff member to cancel or postpone one week of annual leave booked. Schools may also agree to staff carrying over or being paid for leave they were unable to take by the end of their leave year provided the staff member has been able to take the annual statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks' leave. In all cases consideration should be given to individual circumstances and the potential financial hardship that may result from booked leave being cancelled.

What is emergency volunteering leave?

A new statutory right to take emergency volunteer leave (EVL) is detailed in the Coronavirus Act 2020 creating a temporary new form of unpaid leave. The EVL provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 are not yet in force and the right is not yet available.

Once available employees, workers (including those on part-time, casual and zero-hours contracts) and agency workers can elect to take temporary leave from work, to volunteer for health and social care sectors during the coronavirus pandemic. The right will not apply where the employer has a headcount of less than 10 staff. The right to take EVL will be a "day 1" right with no minimum length of service required. There is no mechanism in the Coronavirus Act 2020 for employers to turn down or postpone a qualifying worker's emergency volunteering leave.

The ability to take leave will be triggered by the government which will set cyclical ‘volunteering periods’ of 16 weeks, within which individuals may undertake volunteering in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 consecutive weeks. The leave must be taken in one block and only one period of leave may be taken in the first 16-week period from when the right comes into force. Should the scheme be extended for a further 16 weeks or less, then the employee or worker can take leave again, but the same conditions for taking the leave will apply.

EVL is not a blanket right for workers carrying out volunteering duties to take unpaid leave, it will only apply to volunteers with suitable medical or social care skills  issued an ‘emergency volunteering certificate’ by an appropriate authority (including local authorities, the NHS and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care), specifying the details of their volunteering duties. Volunteers must supply their emergency volunteering certificate (EVC) to their employer together with notice to take EVL in writing, at least 3 working days in advance of their leave commencing. 

During the period of leave, staff will not be paid however all other terms and conditions of employment will remain the same and pension rights are protected. The government will compensate volunteers for loss of earnings plus travel and subsistence expenses.

General Q&As

Can I ask staff to work extra hours to cover?

Yes, although agreement will be on a voluntary basis unless the contract of employment requires staff to work additional hours when requested. Staff should be either paid for the extra hours worked or time off in lieu granted instead, if appropriate. Make sure staff are aware which will apply before they agree. You should also ensure that staff taking on additional hours do not work more than 48 hours a week (on average) unless an opt-out agreement has been signed and that workers receive their minimum daily and weekly rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations.

How can I prepare for a wider outbreak in the UK?

ACAS suggests that employers should:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace;
  • make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date;
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus;
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly;
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them;
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations (though note that, in the context of schools, the government has said that face masks for pupils or staff are not recommended to protect from infection);
  • consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential.

 

If the employer takes measures to protect against infection, they must not single anyone out, for example based on their race or ethnicity.

Can I prevent a member of staff from travelling to an affected area on holiday?

Where an employee is taking authorised annual leave to go on holiday it is technically possible for the employer to cancel the leave by giving a certain period of notice. This is generally inadvisable, not least because it may result in financial loss to the employee. Nothwithstanding this, most school staff (teachers and term time support staff) do not have designated periods of annual leave and typically take holidays during the closure periods, which means that this rule cannot be applied in the same way.

With limited exceptions, what employees do outside work time is generally their own business, even where there may be a knock-on impact on work. Employees should be advised to have regard to the latest government information on areas or countries to avoid, by consulting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)  travel advice, however you cannot ultimately stop them travelling to high-risk areas. At the time of writing (5th May 2020) the FCO is advising British nationals against all non-essential international travel for an indefinite period.

Where a staff member does choose to travel overseas it is possible that they may need to self-isolate on their return or, if they do not, that the school may be forced to send them home as a precautionary measure. This should be addressed in the same way as for other staff, albeit it may feel unfair when other staff have taken a more cautious approach to their own travel plans. Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of all staff and should not take the risk of having the employee in the workplace if government advice is that he or she should be self-isolating.

Is there any specific advice available for teachers from overseas?

Schools can direct any staff with concerns about immigration to the  guidance Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents. The guidance states  that any staff whose leave to remain expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 will have their visa extended to 31 May 2020 if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19) and they request an extension by updating their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT).

The guidance also includes details on what staff need to do if they wish to apply to switch to a long term UK visa - a process that can be undertaken from the UK until 31st May 2020 and confirms that individuals who have applied for a Tier 2 or 5 visa and are waiting for a decision can start work before the visa application is decided provided certain conditions are met.

The government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre which can be contacted on 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or via  email  at  CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.

If you work with teachers from overseas who have questions about travelling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, they should refer to the guidance document  Coronavirus: travel guidance for educational settings .

How can we support the mental health of our staff at this difficult time?

This is a  time of high anxiety and unprecedented levels of challenge for all school staff. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or an Adult Mental Health First-Aider ensure you signpost all staff to these sources of support. Homeworking brings with it the risk of increased feelings of isolation, consider setting up a working group of employees to look at how staff can be supported in this period of isolation, where practice works well, share it with your colleagues.

Mental Health at Work have created a toolkit of resources to support workplace wellbeing during this time. Mental Health at Work is a website curated by Mind, the mental health charity, and funded by The Royal Foundation as part of their Heads Together campaign. It contains resources, views and examples from a huge range of different organisations from across the UK, from business to charity to government.

We have also published a dedicated page on the mental health impact of coronavirus, signposting a range of resources to help in this difficult time.

A staff member from a region of the world with a high incidence of the virus has complained they have been discriminated against, what should we do?

Schools should be particularly alert to any discriminatory treatment of staff from regions of the world with a high incidence of the virus. Schools could be vicariously liable for discrimination or harassment and so should take reasonable steps to prevent this. HR customers can find detailed advice in the Equality Law area of our website.

What is happening about apprenticeships during the coronavirus outbreak?

The government has published guidance (including a number of FAQs) for apprentices and employers outlining the changes that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is making to the apprenticeship programme during the coronavirus pandemic. This will be updated as necessary.

The Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education has advised that every effort should continue to be made to ensure that apprentices can continue with their apprenticeship, and be assessed in accordance with current EPA (End-Point Assessment) plan and EQA (External Quality Assurance) requirements if possible.  Where this is not possible, providers should first consider whether it is appropriate to extend the apprenticeship in order to reschedule the EPA.

Specific measures outlined in the government guidance are:

  • supporting employers, providers and apprentices to work together to mutually agree where and how this training takes place. This includes in the workplace where a provider is able to do so safely and where that workplace meets new ‘coronavirus secure’ guidelines on ensuring the workplace is safe
  • confirming flexibilities to allow furloughed apprentices to continue their training, and to take their EPA, and to all existing furloughed employees to start a new apprenticeship, as long as it does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, their employer
  • encouraging training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning as far as is practicable. Allowing the modification of EPA arrangements, including remote assessments wherever practicable and possible. This is in order to support employers, providers and end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs) to maintain progress and achievement for apprentices
  • clarifying that apprentices ready for assessment, but who cannot be assessed due to coronavirus issues, can have their EPA rescheduled. Apprentices whose gateway is delayed can have an extension to the assessment timeframe
  • enabling employers and training providers to report and initiate a break in learning, where the interruption to learning due to coronavirus is greater than 4 weeks
  • confirming that, where apprentices are made redundant, it is our ambition to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks
  • confirming that, where apprentices are made redundant and are ready to go through gateway, providers and EPAOs are able to make the necessary assessment arrangements to support these apprentices
  • confirming that we are extending the transition period onto the apprenticeship service. Funds available for new starts on non-levy procured contracts can now be used until 31 March 2021. All starts will be through the apprenticeship service from 1 April 2021

What about HR processes or procedures which are underway in school, such as disciplinary hearings, TUPE transfers or redundancy/restructuring?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Generally speaking, it is likely that such processes or procedures will need to continue in some form where possible. Redundancies, for example, may be necessary for financial reasons which are not going to disappear because of the current coronavirus outbreak. It may be pragmatic, however, to put aside minor disciplinary issues in the interest of concentrating on the current crisis.

The main barrier to continuing with such processes and procedures relates to staff absence, particularly due to sickness or self-isolation and social distancing measures. Consultation, for example in redundancy/restructuring scenarios or where a TUPE transfer is to take place, must be meaningful and schools will have to make a judgement on how this can be made possible on a largely remote basis and whether staff and representatives will have enough opportunity to engage.

Disciplinary and capability hearings could be modified by agreement or postponed. This does not mean that the conduct or performance issues need to be ignored, simply that addressing them can be deferred to a more appropriate time.

Joint advice issued by the NEU, NAHT and ASCL states clearly their view that: "During this period, it is not possible to proceed on matters such as reorganisation/redundancy or academy conversion which require meaningful consultation in order to meet the law’s requirements, or to proceed on disciplinary, capability or grievance matters which require hearings and representation.  In the most serious disciplinary cases, suspension on full pay may be necessary to facilitate this".

It is finally also worth pointing out that local authorities may, in respect of at least some categories of maintained school in their area, have reached agreements with recognised unions via joint consultative forums that any such HR meetings will be postponed. If your school is maintained, you should therefore also be alert to any communication from your LA to this effect.

I run a children’s centre and employ staff there on full year basis, with the new statutory right to carry over annual leave for 2 years how can I keep it fully staffed in the future?

The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/365) give workers the right to carry forward untaken holiday of up to 4 weeks over a two year period where it has not been “reasonably practicable” to take the leave due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. ACAS guidance suggests some reasons why staff may not be able to use their holiday entitlement during the pandemic could include:

  • Staff self-isolating or are too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
  • Staff that had to continue working and could not take paid holiday

 

Due to the reduced numbers of children attending educational settings and the expectation that a rota system will be in place for staff required to attend school premises during the period of school closure it is not expected that many staff will find themselves in the situation where it has not been reasonably practicable to take leave because they have been required to continue working. It is also likely only a small proportion of staff  will have been too sick or required to self-isolate due to COVID-19 for an extended period of time and will have been unable to take their holiday before the end of the leave year.

As an employer you must allow staff to take their full holiday entitlement, however, you have the right to insist holiday is taken at certain time e.g. on bank holidays, over Christmas or during a period of school closure. You can refuse a leave request where a staff member has asked for leave to be taken on a specific date, determine how much holiday can be taken at one time and  restrict when leave can be taken so long as there is a “genuine business reason” which will include maintaining staff/pupil ratios in the children’s centre.

If my school purchases an SLA what type of HR service will be available remotely?

The SE4S HR team is set up to work remotely and we have been for some time - before coronavirus was even in our vocabulary! Subject to national challenges around mobile networks and internet connections, all HR colleagues have remote access to telephone and email.

In relation to any ongoing employment relations cases, there is no reason why these cannot reasonably be concluded remotely.  Meetings can be conducted via Microsoft Teams [call or video] subject to employees' willingness and ability to access this from home/remotely. As these are exceptional circumstances, in cases which involve sickness absence and the staff member is already on sick leave, it's unlikely they will want to come into school for a meeting regarding attendance. It may be pragmatic and reasonable to hold such meetings via a conference call or video call.