@NEUnion demand that clinically extremely vulnerable staff should work from home after lockdown
Today, the National Education Union met with schools minister Nick Gibb. We presented evidence of rising COVID-19 infection rates in primary and secondary schools and argued, on the basis of this evidence, that it was not safe for (CEV) school staff to return to workplaces from 3 December.
Current DFE guidance states: "As the national restrictions end, the guidance to the clinically extremely vulnerable not to go to work or school will also end."
The NEU does not agree that it is safe for CEV schools staff to return to working in school next week.
As of today we are advising CEV members of their rights to continue to work from home, and have written to head teachers asking them to support their CEV staff in this regard.
The NEU will be supporting our members who fall within the CEV category and wish to remain working from home. Every contract of employment contains an implied right that an employee can refuse to attend their workplace if it is unsafe. Schools and colleges currently fall clearly into this category. The Employment Rights Act 1996 contains protections for employees who exercise their right to stay away from an unsafe workplace.
Teachers and support staff with CEV make up 2% of the estimate wider CEV working population. 3% of all teachers/support staff are thought to be CEV.
The rate of infection amongst secondary-age pupils has risen by 54 times since the start of September and they have a significantly higher rate of infection than any other age group. According to the most recent Office for National Statistics data, primary and secondary age children are the only age groups with an increasing rate of infection.
Against an alarming backdrop of rising infection rates in schools and colleges Government has taken the deeply irresponsible step of driving CEV teachers, support and school staff back into the classroom.
NEU joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have today written to Nick Gibb.
As well as expressing concerns about CEV staff, they challenge the minister to publish data on the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths due to COVID-19 of school workers since the start of September.
In the letter, the joint general secretaries also ask Nick Gibb to share with the profession any projections he has been given for virus levels around schools between now and Christmas. They also ask him to justify his opposition to rotas. The NEU supports our sister union ASCL’s call that heads should be allowed to move to blended learning. The Government’s approach to school safety is inadequate and provides insufficient protection for CEV staff who should be allowed to continue to work from home supporting remote education for the increasing number of pupils who are isolating.
Nick Gibb must think again and allow CEV staff to continue working from home until the end of term. Other disabled and or vulnerable staff should have their risk assessments revaluated and as a minimum supported in the use of medical grade masks as recommended by the WHO.
Commenting, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“We know that case counts are rising in schools, especially among secondary-age pupils. We know that schools cannot fully socially distance. In such an environment, which is sadly commonplace to the vast majority of schools, clinically extremely vulnerable staff are at risk.
“We have appealed to Government to do the right thing and protect CEV staff who want to do their jobs but cannot safely work on site. We believe that most heads agree with us, and we have written to them to highlight the risks to their staff and the inadequacy of the new DfE guidance.
“The NEU cannot in good conscience recommend that our CEV members go into work when asked to do so, and we will be advising them not to do so. If a school refuses to allow CEV staff to continue to work from home, then that member should get in touch with their NEU rep - and we, together as a union, will support them.”
Letter to Nick Gibb
Dear Minister Gibb
We have raised with you questions our members have about the level of risk they face given the difficulties of social distancing in many education settings, the sometime poor ventilation and the general absence of mask wearing by children in class.
We have raised with you our belief that it is not safe for CEV members of school staff to return to school-based working from Dec 3rd. We urged you to tell schools that they should maintain that CEV staff should continue working from home for the present and that other disabled and or vulnerable staff should have their risk assessments re-evaluated.
As part of your duty of care to education staff we are confident that you are collecting data about the risks they face and therefore we would urge you to share with us, for each week since September:
1. The number of teachers and support staff who have tested positive.
2. The number of teachers and support staff who have been hospitalised.
3. The number of teachers and support staff who have died.
In each case we would urge you to share available demographic information as to age, sex and ethnicity.
We have also shared with you our thinking on projections of number of infections in primary and secondary schools and on the possible impacts on school attendances. Partly this draws on strong correlations between published infection data and published absence data.
We realise that we have far less data available to us than the department has.
We would therefore urge you to share with us and with the profession what projections you have around virus levels and absence in primary and secondary schools in the various regions and local authority areas for the period between now and Christmas.
We have told you that we think there is a strong case for moving to rota operation - in a way that could maintain more educational continuity and whilst help suppressing the R rate. Your projections would allow us to understand the reasoning behind your apparent determination that there should be no move any period of online learning - or at least not in any planned way.
We also appreciate that these projections could have significant uncertainties - but we are sure you must have such projections: otherwise, you would just be flying blind. We would also urge you to update those projections for the Spring term in the light of developing data and other developments between now and then.
Joint General Secretary
Joint General Secretary
Letter to heads:
We are writing to you today about your colleagues who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). We are asking you to support CEV staff by agreeing that they should work at home for the remainder of this term.
Working collaboratively, school and college leaders and their staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain education provision whilst also maintaining safety of pupils, staff and local communities.
Leadership colleagues in particular have worked heroically. We appreciate that this has not come without difficulties and strains on all of us working in education.
During the period of restrictions from 5 November, Government advice was clear that CEV people should not attend work or education. Following the end of restrictions, however, the DfE’s advice for CEV staff in schools suggests that they might return to work if the workplace is safe for them to do so.
The National Education Union (NEU) does not think that there are any grounds to change the current position with regard to CEV staff who should now be working at home. The NEU believes that the DfE’s advice puts CEV colleagues in danger and should be immediately withdrawn. We have asked the DfE to do so as a matter of urgency.
The attached briefing note sets out the basis for the NEU’s position. As you will see, the continuing high infection and transmission rates in our schools and colleges mean that they are still not safe places for CEV staff to work. We do not believe that risk assessments, properly conducted, can support the conclusion that it is safe for CEV staff to be in school or college.
The data on pupil absence highlights the ongoing need to support a substantial number of pupils who are themselves at home. CEV colleagues can therefore continue to make a vital contribution while continuing to work safely from home.
We recognise that the situation will continue to evolve. We therefore make what we think is a reasonable and responsible request that you allow CEV colleagues to work at home and that you also agree with them that the situation will be reviewed again with them when the next term has begun.
We know that you will continue to work flexibly and imaginatively with your staff to ensure their safety and well-being in such testing times.
NEU members know that their union will always prioritise their right to work in a safe environment. We hope that the DfE will withdraw its advice.
Whether or not it does so, you can ensure that safety is maintained and disagreement avoided by agreeing that CEV colleagues should work at home, avoiding this becoming a divisive issue that distracts us all from the urgent task in hand of educating our young people.
We thank you for your commitment to your pupils and your staff colleagues. We commit to reviewing this request in light with emerging evidence on Covid infection rates.
With our sincere thanks,
Mary and Kevin
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- The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.
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