Coronavirus Resources Hub

September Reopening of Schools

Guidance for Full Opening

02/12/2020

27th November 2020 update: With national lockdown ending on 2nd December, various updated government guidance documents have been published and announcements made in recent days. These are summarised on our Advice from 2nd December 2020 webpage. The content of this page has now been updated to reflect these recent announcements.

About this guidance:

The guidance on this page relates to the full reopening of schools from September 2020.

Government guidance on September reopening:

Guidance for mainstream schools, alternative provision and school-based nurseries

NQT support and inductions from September 2020

Although we are focussing primarily on schools on this page, additional government guidance has been published for other settings as follows:

FE colleges and skills providers
Special schools and other specialist settings
Early years and childcare providers (relevant to schools with nursery classes)

The information and advice on this page is not intended to replicate the contents of the government guidance but aims to provide additional advice and commentary on some of the employment aspects and will be added to and revised as necessary as government policy evolves.

Maintained schools should also have regard to any advice issued by their local authority. All schools and settings should be alert to information from local health protection teams, particularly with regard to what to do in the event of a local outbreak.

Reviewing the risk assessment

Schools will have had in place COVID-19 risk assessments for the summer term. These must have been been reviewed and revised to reflect a return to full capacity from September and again in light of the period of national restrictions during November 2020. It will be necessary to revisit these risk assessments in light of the recommencement of local restriction tiers from 2nd December 2020.

In July we prepared a risk assessment review tool, which provides information extracted from the government guidance to cross-check against the school’s existing risk assessment, along with suggestions to consider when forming implementation plans as a result. If you wish to view our original template risk assessment for June reopening, this is still available to download. (Please note it has not been updated in line with changing government guidance since July 2020) Maintained schools may have received template risk assessments from their local authority and should be alert to any updates to these.

As with the initial risk assessment, schools and other education settings have a legal duty to consult their staff on matters of health and safety. Involving them in making decisions shows that you take their health and safety seriously and minimises the risk of any future employment tribunal claims. In the present circumstances it also plays a vital role in reassuring staff who may be anxious about returning to work that the school is proactively implementing a range of control measures.

You must consult with any appointed health and safety representatives you have and share the updated risk assessment which has been undertaken. You should consult directly with affected staff too. Schools and other education settings, as employers, should consider publishing the outcome of their risk assessment process on their website (and the government has stated that it expects employers with over 50 workers to do so).

The risk assessment will have helped to inform workforce planning as well as what communications need to be given to staff (and others) at, or before, the start of term and the key messages that will need to be reinforced over time.

Individual risk assessments: in some cases it may be appropriate to undertake risk assessments for individual members of staff. See more information on individual risk assessments.

 

The deployment of staff

Remote working

The government message on home working 'where possible' has shifted over the course of the year, when the period of national restrictions ends on 2nd December 2020  the general advice is that everyone who can work from home should do so. However, employees whose workplace is open can return to work, provided a risk assessment has been undertaken and any appropriate adjustments have been made, the DfE specifically acknowledges in its latest guidance for schools that most school-based roles are not ideally suited to home working and therefore schools can expect most staff to return to work on site.

There may still be opportunities for staff to work a few hours from home when the nature of their duties does not require them to be on site all the time (administrative work or PPA time for example) and it is practically possible (e.g. for a whole day or the beginning/end of a day). It may not always be convenient for staff to do so, particularly if they live a long distance from school, but, where it is an arrangement that works for both parties, it should be considered as this will reduce the number of people on site. The DfE suggests in such cases school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate.

 

Deployment of teachers and teaching support staff

From September 2020, all teachers and teaching support staff can be deployed to work across different classes and year groups to facilitate the delivery of the timetable (i.e. they are not expected to remain with the same pupil group/bubble).

Teaching assistants (TAs) can be deployed to lead groups or cover lessons, as is already the case, subject (in maintained schools) to the Education (Specified Work) (England) Regulations 2012 which require the TA to be under the direction and supervision of a qualified, or nominated, teacher. The headteacher must be satisfied that the person has the appropriate skills, expertise and experience to carry out the work. Where this represents a change to the role or level of responsibility, this should be discussed and agreed with the member of staff.

Subject to any contractual restrictions and their competence to do so, it is possible to move teachers to teach different year groups and subjects.

TAs can also be utilised to support catch-up provision or targeted interventions where capacity exists. This should be supplementary to - and not a replacement for - teacher support.

 

Flexible deployment and changing contracts

It is likely that, to facilitate new timetable arrangements which allow for class/year group bubbles, and to implement the range of protective measures expected, staff may be expected to work differently to normal. This might mean some change to duties, working with alternative classes/years, working in another location (e.g. in MATs), working different hours (to facilitate staggered start/finish times for example) or potentially even deployment to another role.

Clearly the starting point for any such change is discussion with the individual affected. Where the employee is happy with the change, particularly on the basis that it will be temporary and in view of the unprecedented circumstances, then no additional action is required. If the nature of the change amounts to a variation of the employment contract (or in any event where the change is more than trivial) it should be confirmed in writing, including when you expect to review the arrangement again.

Where agreement cannot be reached, the school will need to determine if another acceptable alternative can be put in place or that there are strong operational reasons for requiring the employee’s role to change in the way proposed. Whether it is possible to enforce a change in this way will depend on if it amounts to a contractual change or not. Typically, for example, adjustments to working practices will not amount to a contractual change, whereas a change to someone’s working hours or location will. Whilst it would be possible to undertake a contractual change process further to a period of consultation and – if necessary – dismiss and re-engage affected staff on revised terms, this is a drastic step in respect of the employment relationship, particularly for a change that is likely to be only temporary, and therefore generally a last resort.

In some cases, the contract of employment may provide for some flexibility, for example with regard to the nature of duties or location of work. Flexibility clauses should still, however, be exercised reasonably in all cases. You may need to seek additional HR advice on contractual flexibilities and change processes if voluntary agreement cannot be reached.

HR customers can access more detailed guidance on varying a contract of employment in our Guidance on Managing Redundancies and Restructures.

 

Staff social distancing expectations

Staff are expected to maintain social distancing as much as possible when within the class and moving between classes, staying at the front and/or two metres from other staff and pupils at other times, wherever practical. Briefly passing others in school corridors is considered to be low risk. It is recognised that, with younger children or those with complex needs, this will not be possible all of the time. Where it is not possible to maintain a two metre distance, staff should minimise time spent within one metre of anyone and avoid close face to face contact.

 

Classroom and staff room adaptations

To support social distancing, pupils should be seated side by side, facing forwards and the teacher should remain at the front as much as possible.

Use of shared staff spaces should be minimised, so schools will need to plan how the space is set up and used to support social distancing.

 

Use of face coverings by staff 

Advice on this matter has evolved over time. The government  has recently published updated guidance stating that the government position is that universal use of face coverings in schools is not recommended. The position within the updated 3-tier system is as follows:

Tier 1 - Medium: Schools that teach children in years 7+ will have the discretion to require face coverings (for pupils, staff and visitors) in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, e.g. corridors and communal areas.

Tier 2 - High: Schools that teach children in years 7+ should require face coverings to be worn (by pupils, staff and visitors) in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, e.g. corridors and communal areas.

Tier 3 - Very High: The advice is the same as Tier 2 above. It remains the case that younger children and those in early years settings do not need to wear a face covering.

For schools placed in Tier 1 where face coverings are not a requirement if a member of staff has asked to wear a face covering to feel safer at work, the school will need to consider if it is willing to permit this. If it reduces anxiety in individual cases, it may be a pragmatic response to allow it. If you agree this in individual cases, you should extend the option to all staff as a matter of personal choice, unless there are sound reasons for restricting their use in particular posts, for example where communication would be significantly impeded. Your risk assessment should, in any event, have already considered higher risk areas (such as the school reception) where face-to-face contact is more prevalent. Other protective barriers (such as Perspex screens) are likely to be more effective solutions in these places. If you do allow face coverings to be worn, you should clarify to the school community that these are voluntary and not an expectation or requirement, unless the school moves to a different level of local restrictions. 

Q & As on Face Coverings

When the use of face coverings is not required by any  local restrictions in what circumstances might schools/colleges consider recommending the wearing of face coverings?

The government guidance gives the following examples:

  • When the layout of the premises makes it particularly difficult to maintain social distancing when staff and pupils are moving around;
  • Where permitting the use of face coverings would provide additional confidence to parents.

It is clear that where the use of face coverings is not a requirement of local restrictions school leaders can make local decisions on when it may be appropriate to require face coverings based on their own setting.

 

Is there anything the school/college needs to do if it wants to require face coverings to be worn in communal areas?

There is a risk that face coverings can inadvertently increase the risk of transmission. It is important, therefore, that everyone who is asked to wear a face covering is given clear instructions on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings, including cleaning hands before and after touching it.

We have put together a one-page information sheet, based on official guidance, which you can use for this purpose if you wish.

 

What about requiring face coverings in the classroom as well?

Government advice remains that face coverings should not generally be necessary in the classroom, even where social distancing is not possible. This is due to the other systems of control in place, the fact that staff can generally physically distance within classrooms and because face coverings potentially impact negatively on teaching and learning.

Notwithstanding this, it is ultimately for schools to decide whether to allow staff (and other adults / pupils) to wear face coverings in the classroom if individuals have asked to do so.

 

What will happen in areas of local restriction?

Government guidance states that the universal use of face coverings in schools is not recommended. The position within the updated 3-tier system is as follows:

Tier 1 - Medium: Schools that teach children in years 7+ will have the discretion to require face coverings (for pupils, staff and visitors) in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, e.g. corridors and communal areas.

Tier 2 - High: Schools that teach children in years 7+ should require face coverings to be worn (by pupils, staff and visitors) in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained, e.g. corridors and communal areas.

Tier 3 - Very High: The advice is the same as Tier 2 above. It remains the case that younger children and those in early years settings do not need to wear a face covering.

 

Will the school need to supply face coverings?

The government guidance is that it is now reasonable to assume that staff and pupils will have access to face coverings due to the need to wear one in various other scenarios outside school. Resources are also available from PHE on how to make a face covering. The guidance suggests, however, that education settings should aim to have a small contingency supply available, for example where anyone is struggling to access a face covering, forgets to bring it or it becomes damaged during the day.

 

What about people who are exempt from wearing face coverings, e.g. because of a mental/physical impairment?

The same exemptions will apply in education settings. Details of exemptions can be found on the Gov.uk website.

 

What about primary schools?

Children in primary schools should not be required to wear face coverings. That does not prevent schools permitting staff to wear them and/or requiring visitors to.

 

What if staff/pupils refuse to wear a face covering?

The guidance is clear that no-one should be excluded from education on the grounds they are not wearing a face covering. Bear in mind also that some individuals will be exempt. With regards to staff, it may be necessary to have a conversation with reluctant individuals about their concerns to understand whether these can be accommodated or not. We would suggest taking HR advice on the potential options in individual cases.

 

 

Planning for cover

Schools do not need to restrict their use of temporary or supply staff, although generally the number of outside visitors to the school should be minimised. Any such staff will need to be briefed on the school’s arrangements for managing and minimising risk.

The DfE guidance suggests that schools may wish to make use of longer assignments with supply teachers and other temporary or peripatetic staff (such as sports coaches) and agree a minimum number of hours across the academic year.

The need for cover at short notice is likely to be particularly acute, given that any member of staff may, at any time, be required to self-isolate. Self-isolating staff can, of course, still be required to work from home but, in many cases, this will not mitigate the need for on-site cover.

On 27th November the government announced that schools will be able to claim via a new short term COVID workforce fund in certain circumstances. Eligible schools and colleges will be able to claim for costs backdated to 1st  November, provided that they meet the relevant criteria, and will be able to claim for costs until the Christmas holidays. Full guidance is expected soon

 

Workload and wellbeing

The DfE guidance states that any required redeployment of staff in September should be planned in order to avoid increases in unnecessary and unmanageable workload burdens. Where schools have concerns about capacity they are advised to talk to their local authority or academy trust.

This continues to be an anxious time for school staff, in addition to the logistical complexities of opening schools to all pupils, many staff are struggling with their own personal circumstances and adjusting to the ongoing requirements around minimising social contact. Normal day-to-day interactions have become inherently more complex and stressful and this will affect workplace contact just as much. School leaders and all line managers should be mindful of this and consider what extra support can be put in place, such as increased frequency of one-to-one 'check in' discussions, facilitating ways of maintaining professional conversations, occasional social activities (within the parameters of government advice), signposting external sources of support or conducting wellbeing surveys to highlight any particular areas of concern.

Staff working in school after a period of partial school closure: specific issues

Risk assessing individuals

Some schools chose to undertake individual risk assessments as part of their June reopening plans and will have updated these following full reopening in September and the period of national restrictions in November 2020. The government guidance does not state that such risk assessments are recommended or required, however they can be appropriate, as part of fulfilling the employer’s duty of care, where members of staff are deemed to be particularly vulnerable or where they have expressed anxieties about returning to work. More detailed information and advice about staff in different risk categories is included in the scenarios below (we are in the process of updating this section in light of the new system of national restrictions effective 2nd December 2020).

Our individual template discussion form / risk assessment has been updated to reflect the end of formal shielding effective from 1st August 2020 and the possible resumption of shielding under Tier 3 of  the new  system of local restrictions effective 2nd December 2020.

It is possible that, in the worst-affected Tier 3 areas, more restrictive formal shielding measures may be introduced, based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer. In the limited cases where this applies, the government will write to individuals who are advised to shield. In these cases, shielding advice will include that CEV staff are strongly advised to work from home and should not attend work. This will not affect members of the household who live with someone advised to shield.

 

Preparing staff to return to work after a period of shielding

Following the relaxation of shielding at the end of the period of national restrictions from 2nd December 2020 an individual one-to-one discussion with any staff member returning to work is advisable. Staff should be closely involved in discussions about the risk assessment and the protective measures being put in place for their return to work. Aside from the employer’s legal obligations, this consultation will play an integral part in alleviating anxiety about returning to the workplace.

Schools should also consider what re-induction may be necessary, including briefing staff on any changes to working practices, policies and protocols.

 

Staffing scenarios

Below we have outlined some of the key scenarios that are likely to be encountered in the workforce with advice on the options for dealing with these. If you are familiar with these from our June reopening webpage, please note that they have been updated to reflect the September reopening guidance and therefore supersede our previous advice.

We are aware that many local authorities have produced their own advice for maintained schools on the treatment of different categories of staff which such settings may also wish to have regard to.

We have prepared a flowchart summarising the main scenarios detailed below (click to download as pdf):

 

Scenario 1: Self-isolation due to coronavirus-related reasons

Download our flowchart on self-isolation rules and returning to work

 

Employee has symptoms of coronavirus

New continuous cough and/or high temperature and/or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell ('anosmia')

The employee must stay at home for 10 days (increased from 7 days on 30th July 2020) from when symptoms started. After 10 days, he/she does not need to continue to self-isolate if the symptoms have gone. It is not necessary to continue to self-isolate with just a cough or a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell ('anosmia'). If someone in the employee’s household subsequently starts displaying symptoms, it is not necessary for the employee to self-isolate again. If, however, the employee develops new coronavirus symptoms at any point after the first period of isolation, he/she should self-isolate again.

 

Employee tests positive for coronavirus but is asymptomatic

If an employee tests positive for coronavirus whilst not experiencing symptoms but develops symptoms during the isolation period, they are required to restart the 10-day isolation period from the day they develop symptoms. This is a change to the rules applicable to those starting isolation on or after 30th July.

 

Someone in employee’s household has symptoms of coronavirus and/or tests positive

The employee must stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the house became ill or, if the person has no symptoms but has taken a coronavirus test which is subsequently positive, from the day their test was taken. If the employee subsequently starts displaying symptoms, he/she will need to stay at home for 10 days from when the symptoms appeared (regardless of where he/she is in the original 14-day isolation period). Provided everyone in the household who is symptomatic is tested and the result is negative, it is possible for the employee to return to work sooner than 14 days (i.e. after all the negative test results are back).

 

NHS Test and Trace service

An employee who is contacted by NHS Test and Trace (notifying them that they are a contact of a confirmed case) is required to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of last contact with the person in question. If the employee develops symptoms themselves, they will be able to take a test. However if the test is negative they must still self-isolate for the full 14 days and will not be able to return to work any sooner.

 

Employee is a contact of a confirmed school case

The school should follow any local health protection team advice with regard to who should self-isolate. Where a member of staff is required to self-isolate due to contact with a confirmed case at school, this must continue for 14 days. If the employee subsequently develops symptoms and tests positive, he/she will need to stay at home for 10 days from when the symptoms appeared (regardless of where he/she is in the original 14-day isolation period). If the employee tests negative, he/she must still self-isolate for the full 14 days.

 

Self-isolation due to planned/elective surgery or in-patient medical care

It is now an NHS requirement that anyone attending hospital as an in-patient (which includes day surgery) must be asymptomatic, having isolated for 14 days prior to admission, along with members of their household. This could therefore affect employees even when they are not attending for in-patient care themselves.

The National Joint Council for Local Government Services (representing support staff), the LGA and the headteacher unions (ASCL and NAHT) have all issued advice statements to the effect that, unless the employee is already on sick pay, all school employees should remain on normal pay for the duration of the self-isolation period.

 

Working remotely during self-isolation

It is perfectly possible for employees who are self-isolating for any of the reasons outlined in this section to work from home, provided they are well enough to do so (i.e. had it not been for the requirement to self-isolate they would have been able to work). Where the employee’s normal duties do not lend themselves to home working, they may be allocated other tasks to undertake instead, provided these are reasonable, bearing in mind the employee’s skills and experience.

 

Getting tested for coronavirus

All individuals can now obtain a coronavirus test in England as a result of displaying symptoms. Tests for essential workers are prioritised over the tests available for the wider public through the NHS.

Find out more about testing on Gov.uk.

 

Entitlement to pay during self-isolation

Q&As on self-isolation, including on entitlement to pay, can be found on our coronavirus absence management page.

Scenario 2: Employee is clinically vulnerable, clinically extremely vulnerable or otherwise deemed to be at higher risk

Employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable

Clinically extremely vulnerable

England-wide shielding advice for employees considered clinically extremely vulnerable (due to certain medical conditions) ended at the end of July 2020. The general advice now is therefore that school staff who were previously shielding are able to go to work, provided the workplace is 'COVID-secure' (which means that the school has adopted protective measures in line with the government guidance for educational and childcare settings) and that social distancing can be maintained.

As of 13th October 2020, it was announced that - in very limited cases, in some areas of very high virus transmission - shielding measures will be reintroduced, as a result of which those asked to shield will be sent a new shielding notification. The advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people has also been differentiated according to which covid alert level is in place in their area:

ADVICE FOR  TIER 1 - COVID ALERT LEVEL MEDIUM:

The advice on attending work is unchanged. Clinically extremely vulnerable people should continue to maintain strict social distancing and limit number of social interactions. Employees who cannot work from home can still go to work.

ADVICE FOR TIER 2 -  COVID ALERT LEVEL HIGH:

The advice on attending work is unchanged and mirrors that for the MEDIUM alert level. Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised that they should generally avoid travel where possible but can still travel to work, limiting time on public transport where possible.

ADVICE FOR TIER 3 - COVID ALERT LEVEL VERY HIGH:

Employees are strongly advised to work from home where at all possible. Where this is not possible, employees with concerns about going into work are advised to speak to their employer about taking on an alternative role or temporarily changing their working pattern (e.g. to avoid rush hour travel). The advice goes on to say that, if there is no alternative, employees can still go to work (unless also advised to shield, see below). Notwithstanding the government guidance is  that people in very high alert areas can go to work if there is no alternative, we would advise in all cases - in light of the duty of care to all employees - considering what alternative measures can be put in place, whether that is working remotely, allocation of different duties, and/or additional protections on site, rather than expecting employees simply to carry on working as usual when the risk to their health has self-evidently increased due to living or working in a very high risk area.

Shielding:

  • More restrictive formal shielding measures may be advised in the worst affected VERY HIGH alert areas, based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer.
  • This will not apply in all VERY HIGH areas; those affected will be written to if they are advised to shield (NB there is no advice to shield without a new shielding notification).
  • Employees with a new shielding notification should not attend work but can work from home.

Clinically vulnerable

Employees who are clinically vulnerable e.g. due to age, pregnancy or because they have certain underlying health conditions) can attend work provided social distancing measures are adhered to. The advice for clinically vulnerable staff is unchanged by the new advice for clinically extremely vulnerable staff (above).

What does social distancing mean?

'Social distancing' now means ideally maintaining a 2 metre distance from others, but - where this is not possible - avoiding close face to face contact and minimising time spent within 1 metre of others. Risk of transmission between young children and adults is deemed likely to be low, so social distancing is more important in respect of other adults (including older children).

 

Disabled and pregnant employees

Employees who are pregnant or have a disability are entitled to additional protection in law and therefore these groups of staff are considered in more detail below.

Pregnant employees

Pregnant women – according to the available evidence – are not at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus than other adults and data suggests that the risk of transmission of the infection from woman to baby is low.

Pregnant women do, however, have additional employment rights and the employer should undertake a pregnancy risk assessment which takes into account the particular risks which might arise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This might be part of an all-inclusive risk assessment, looking at risks unrelated to coronavirus as well (HR customers can access such a risk assessment amongst our maternity template resources), or separate to it. This might include, for example, whether the employee has to use public transport to get to work, considering any health problems and identifying any issues with adhering to social distancing guidelines when at work. Where identified risks cannot be satisfactorily controlled, reduced or removed, alternatives to the employee’s normal work should be considered. This may include elements of home working (which might involve a need to undertake different work to facilitate this), changing working hours or practices, the offer of a temporary alternative job where the risks can be better managed or – as a last resort – suspension from work on health and safety grounds, which may be relevant if the employee also has underlying health issues which heighten the overall risk. This would always be on full pay. An employee who is on maternity suspension into the fourth week prior to the expected week of childbirth will automatically trigger the start of her maternity leave from that point.

 

Should a distinction be made for the third trimester?

The government information makes no distinction with regard to pregnancy: all pregnant women are treated as ‘clinically vulnerable’ and therefore the guidance does not differ for those who are in the later stages of pregnancy. Advice, however, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (which the DfE now also advises having regard to) points to a UK study published in May which suggested that, whilst the vast majority of pregnant women with coronavirus only required ward treatment, those who did require intensive care were mostly in their third trimester. The RCOG therefore advises women to be particularly careful about social distancing and hand washing from 28 weeks of pregnancy. In order to support employees to adhere to this advice, employers should therefore factor in the need for the employee to maintain social distancing as consistently as possible whilst on site and implement adjustments as necessary to allow for this to be sustained.

Employees with a disability

Many employees who are deemed to be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable due to an underlying health condition will have chronic health issues which may satisfy the definition of a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In such cases there will be a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of a disabled employee where he/she is put at a substantial disadvantage (compared to a non-disabled person) because of something to do with the workplace or the employer’s practices. In the context of coronavirus, this might include the provision of additional equipment, either to facilitate home working where this is practical or to facilitate a safe environment at work. If appropriate adjustments cannot be made and the employee cannot adequately perform their role from home, in extreme cases it may be necessary to place him/her on disability leave, in consultation with the employee. More advice has been published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In cases where the help a disabled employee needs is not covered by the duty to make reasonable adjustments, he/she may be able to apply for a grant from Access to Work. For example, this might be used to cover the cost of taxi fares because he/she cannot use public transport safely due to coronavirus. 

 

What is 'disability leave'?

Disability leave is not a specific statutory right and therefore there are no particular rules around eligibility, duration or the terms that might apply during leave. It is, however, referred to in the Equality Act 2010: Employment Statutory Code of Practice as something which an employer may offer a disabled employee as a reasonable adjustment in appropriate circumstances, for example where time off is needed to undergo treatment and/or rehabilitation. In the context of the coronavirus outbreak, where disability leave is offered because it is not possible to make other reasonable adjustments which will allow the employee to safely come into work, and remote working isn't feasible, then disability leave should be on full pay (similar to maternity suspension for a pregnant employee).

BAME staff and others at increased risk

The government guidance for schools recognises that BAME staff and some people with particular characteristics may be at comparatively increased risk from coronavirus (as set out in the COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes report). The reasons for this are complex and research is ongoing. If employees with significant risk factors are concerned about their level of risk, the government advice is that schools discuss their concerns and explain the measures the school is putting in place to reduce risks. School leaders should try as far as practically possible to accommodate additional measures where appropriate.

 

Employees who live with someone who is clinically vulnerable / clinically extremely vulnerable or otherwise at increased risk

The government advice from September is that employees who live with someone who is either clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable can attend work as normal, with no additional measures in place over and above those which have been implemented to protect all staff. This advice is unchanged by new guidelines for clinically extremely vulnerable people, issued on 13th October 2020.

 

Individual risk assessments

Where an individual risk assessment is deemed appropriate, you may wish to keep a record of discussions held, as well as any agreement reached over adjustments or additional measures to mitigate risk. We have developed a template discussion form / risk assessment (updated to reflect the changed shielding advice from 1st August) which you may find useful.

Scenario 3: Employee reluctant to attend but can be expected to work

As noted in the previous scenario, employees who live with someone who is at higher risk (whether clinically vulnerable, extremely vulnerable or for some other reason) can be expected to attend work as normal from September.

Such employees, and others who may have anxieties about returning to work for a range of other reasons, may need additional reassurance about the protective measures that have been put in place for their return. Line managers may pick up on such anxieties instinctively, or the employee may have raised them directly, but in all such cases a sympathetic one-to-one discussion should take place about the concerns that the employee has and whether anything reasonably practical can be done to alleviate those.

If the employee’s anxiety about returning to work is linked to a disability (e.g. a mental health condition) then the duty to make reasonable adjustments will arise in the usual way. An occupational health referral might help with identifying options.

Where the individual is still unhappy to return to work, following a one-to-one discussion, and the employer’s view is that it would be reasonable for them to do so in view of the health and hygiene measures which have been planned or are in place, attempting to force the issue by threatening disciplinary action is unlikely to be helpful and may simply trigger a stress/anxiety reaction resulting in further absence from work.

It is preferable to avoid a situation where absence ends up being unauthorised by considering – and where possible agreeing – an alternative. A period of unpaid leave may be an option if the school is willing to consider this based on the employee’s stated reasons for concern, however it will need to be time limited. On the assumption that following the winter second wave transmission rates will continue to fall as the vaccine is rolled out and society will get back to some semblance of normality, anxiety about returning will become less of a sustainable response over time. If it appears likely that a return to work is not going to be possible in the reasonably foreseeable future the school will want to start considering alternatives. Depending on the individual situation, it could ultimately be addressed as a capability issue. HR and, where relevant, occupational health advice is recommended before significant employment decisions are made in such cases.

Scenario 4: Childcare / caring responsibilities prevent employee working

Short-term childcare problems as a result of school or nursery based outbreaks occurring have become a feature of school life, requiring groups of children to refrain from coming into the setting and, in some cases, having to self-isolate.

Employees who cannot work because of childcare or other caring commitments can take advantage of the statutory right to take ‘time off for dependants’ (unpaid, unless there is contractual provision to the contrary), although this is only intended as a short-term, emergency measure  in order for alternative care to be arranged and may not therefore be appropriate where caring responsibilities are not unexpected or short-term.  There is no maximum amount of dependants leave an employee can take and in the scenario where a child is self-isolating options for alternative childcare will be limited those already living in the household, therefore taking the full period of isolation as dependents leave is a  reasonable request  in these circumstances.

The school may also wish to suggest that employee  could explore sharing the time away from work with  a co-parent ( if possible) , taking annual leave ( if working 52 weeks p.a.)  or ask them to work remotely or flexibly during this period if possible.

Where the employee has to self-isolate alongside his/her household, this should be treated as a self-isolation scenario rather than a childcare issue (see scenario 1 for more on self-isolation).

Some employees may also continue to have heightened caring responsibilities for others, such as elderly relatives, as a result of disruption to usual arrangements for care. Again, time off for dependants can be used in the short term.

Where disruption to care arrangements is likely to be more than short term, employers should discuss with the member of staff what the current situation is and consider flexible working arrangements (such as a reduction of hours or change to working pattern). For childcare issues, ordinary parental leave is another option (HR customers can find out more about this right on our Unpaid Parental Leave page).

Furlough remains an option in the private sector until the end of March 2021.

Contingency Planning

Government guidance for contingency planning in areas of local lockdowns was first published on 28th August. Restrictions in education settings were based on a system of four tiers which were intended as measures of "last resort" in those areas subject to local restrictions.  The DfE  published a new  framework on 27th November 2020  setting out how any further restrictions on education during the coronavirus pandemic would be implemented from 2nd December 2020. The new framework applies to early years settings, schools (including independent schools) and alternative provision, FE providers, out of school settings (e.g. breakfast clubs) but not universities. A summary of the document is below:

Principles of the framework

Any restrictions on education will be a last resort, aimed specifically at reducing transmission, and will only be initiated following a ministerial decision within the DfE on a case-by-case basis, in light of local and national circumstances and resulting from discussions with other government departments, the Chief Medical Officer, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and relevant local authorities.
Schools and other settings should not take local decisions to implement the measures in this framework or those similar to it.
Implementation could be across any geographical area (a cluster of settings, local area, local authority or region).
Any restrictions will kept under review and lifted as soon as appropriate.
The framework is not directly linked to policy on local restriction tiers.
Restrictions may be advised for one, some or all of the types of setting in scope.
Priority should continue to be given to vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers.

Impact on different types of setting when the framework is implemented

Where the contingency framework is implemented this will have effect on different settings as follows:

Early years / primary schools: should continue allowing all children to attend. In exceptional circumstances where the evidence supports it, DfE may advise that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers should attend.

Middle schools: may be advised to adopt a combined approach with all pupils in primary year groups attending, but only vulnerable children and children of critical workers in older year groups. Remote education should be provided to other pupils.

Secondary schools: should only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, pupils in years 11 and 13 and other pupils due to take external exams this academic year to attend. Remote education should be provided to other pupils.

Boarding schools: should follow the advice for primary and secondary schools to determine who should be taught in classroom. Remote education should be provided to other pupils.

Special schools and special post-16 institutions: should continue to allow pupils to attend full time (or, for post-16, as per their usual timetable). In unlikely circumstances where full-time attendance in mainstream primary schools is limited, attendance for special school pupils of primary age will be encouraged but not mandatory. For special school pupils of secondary school age, attendance will be encouraged but will not be mandatory.

Alternative provision (including PRUs, AP academies, AP free schools) / hospital schools: should continue to allow all children/pupils to attend full time. In the case of hospital schools, this should take into account whether it is safe and feasible to do so.

FE providers: should allow daily attendance only to vulnerable young people, children of critical workers and priority learners (for example, those in exame or final assessment year groups or those unable to complete their education programme remotely). Remote education should be provided to other students. Residential providers should also prioritise students needing access to specialist facilities/equipment and students with SEND needs.

Out-of-school settings and wraparound care (providers of community activities, before or after-school clubs, tuition and other out of school or childcare provision for children over the age of 5): are able to continue to open for both indoor and outdoor provision. They should only allow those children to attend that are eligible to be in school full time.

Infection prevention and control

When the contingency framework is in operation, education and childcare settings should continue to follow the system of controls advice outlined in government guidance, which is tailored to different settings. Settings should update their risk assessment, in consultation with staff and unions, to reflect their contingency model and review implementation of control measures in light of this.

Education workforce

In areas where restrictions have been implemented, employers are advised to consider advice from the relevant Director of Public Health and local authority in relation to staff (and ITT trainees) attending workplaces when updating their risk assessment. Where there are reduced numbers of students on site, with remote education for students at home, it should be considered whether more staff can work at home.

Schools and FE providers (led by the DSL / deputy DSL where possible) should review their child protection policy (and/or any coronavirus-related annex to the policy previously introduced) to ensure it reflects the local restrictions and remains effective.

A trained DSL or deputy should remain available on site. Where this is operationally difficult, a trained DSL / deputy DSL can be available remotely (to be contacted via phone / online video), or trained DSLs / deputy DSLs can be shared with other schools/FE providers (who, again, should be available remotely). In addition, a senior leader should take responsibility for coordinating safeguarding on site where the DSL/deputy is only available remotely.

Exams / assessments

Where restrictions have been implemented, schools / FE providers should remain open for exams and assessments and should work with the local health protection teams and REACT teams to facilitate any additional mitigations needed. These might include the use of face coverings in communal areas, 2-metre spacing between desks and additional protections for candidates who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

School / FE meals

Schools should continue to provide meal options for pupils in school as well as free school meals or food parcels for eligible pupils not attending school (due to self-isolation / positive test / close contact with positive case / implementation of government restrictions). Similar provisions apply to students eligible for, and usually receiving, free meals in FE settings.

Contingency planning in schools and other settings

Education settings and others covered by this framework are advised to consider how they would operate in the event that these restrictions became necessary in their local area.

Downloads and Resources

COVID-19 Risk Assessment Review Tool

This tool is designed to help schools review their existing COVID-19 risk assessments for September reopening, based on government advice

Last updated: 10/07/20

Download

Individual Return to Work Discussion Form and Risk Assessment

A template form which can be used to make an assessment of an employee's individual risk factors and to record agreed work adjustments or additional measures (updated for November national restrictions)

Last updated: 02/12/20

Download

Self-Isolation Rules Flowchart

A flowchart showing the various routes whereby an employee may be required to self-isolate and when they can return to work

Last updated: 28/08/20

Download