Advice for school staff – updated 18 May



On 14 May we wrote to all Head Teachers at all schools (including Academies) in North Yorkshire to set out why we feel it is too soon to increase the number of staff and children on 1 June. We are working with North Yorkshire County Council to agree risk assessments for all schools, which must be completed before pupil numbers can be increased. We have also produced a model letter that you can give to your Head Teacher if you are being asked to help plan for a reopening or extension of your school from 1 June.

Download the letter from North Yorkshire UNISON to all Head Teachers

Download a model letter you can give to your Head Teacher

Following various announcements over the last few days we are receiving lots of calls and emails from our members who work in schools. They are worried about the lack of clarity from the government about what is happening after half-term.

Understandably, Head Teachers are also confused and schools are taking different approaches. Some Head Teachers are already planning for all staff to return as early as next week, and some are asking staff to confirm work rotas for week commencing Monday 1 June.

We understand this is a very difficult time for Head Teachers, local authorities and our members. Schools have had this dropped on them by the government, without the full guidance being available about how they can make their schools Covid-19 secure.

The education trade unions are urgently seeking clarification from the government. In North Yorkshire we have meetings planned this week with the local authority to look at issues around risk assessments and staffing. Until these meetings have been held, and until adequate risk assessments are in place at each schools we believe it is too soon for our members to be expected to give commitments about returning to work, or increasing their time in work, from 1 June. We have this morning emailed all our schools members with the following advice:

We know this is a very difficult time for you, your colleagues and your Head Teachers. The government has announced that it might be possible for primary schools to reopen to children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from Monday 1 June. This is a provisional date and is an aspiration.

All the education trade unions, including UNISON, are very concerned about the ability for schools to keep children, parents and staff safe. All the unions are urgently seeking clarity from the government and local authorities about how schools can operate safely with increased numbers of children.

We know that some Head Teachers are asking their staff to return to work as normal next week, and/or to start planning for a return from 1 June. We believe this is premature, but we also recognise that Head Teachers have had this thrust upon them at very short notice by the government.

Before increasing the number of children and staff in school, Head Teachers and employers MUST complete a risk assessment. They MUST involve the trade unions in this, and they MUST share it with staff. This should set out what steps the school will take to reduce the risk to staff.

Where individual staff have their own individual health needs, your Head Teacher must also do an individual risk assessment. Pregnant women (at any stage of their pregnancy) have specific legal rights; your Head Teacher MUST complete a pregnancy risk assessment with you and if social distancing cannot be maintained at work pregnant women should be placed on full-pay maternity suspension (unless within the last 4 weeks before their maternity leave is due to start).

If you are asked to help plan for a return to work we advise you to do the following:

  • Explain to your Head Teacher that the trade unions are still in discussions with government and local authorities about what happens next.
  • Explain that locally, UNISON are meeting with North Yorkshire County Council this Friday (15 May) to discuss arrangements for schools returning. This will also look at the necessary risk assessments that are needed.
  • Ask for a copy of the risk assessment about increasing the number of pupils and staff in school.
  • Explain that, until the national and local discussions with the education trade unions are complete and until you have seen the risk assessment(s) you are not able to give commitments about returning to work.
  • If your Head Teacher or manager does not agree with our advice please share this email with them. They can contact the branch office if they have any concerns and we would be happy to talk to them on your behalf.

We know that this is a really difficult time for everyone, including Head Teachers who have had this dropped on them at very short notice and without all the details. We are expecting a statement later today from UNISON about the discussions with government, and possibly also a joint statement from all the education trade unions.

There are a couple more things that you can do now:

  • If you use Twitter, please follow our account @nyunison – we update it frequently throughout the day and it is a really good way to keep abreast of the latest advice and guidance.
  • Encourage your colleagues to join UNISON – now, more than ever it is important that everyone has the protection and support of a trade union.
  • Keep checking our website for information and resources on Covid-19 and work.
  • Share this advice with your colleagues who may not be UNISON members, or who we might not have an email address for.

Finally, if you experience any problems or if you need advice that you cannot find on our website please do not hesitate to contact us using our online contact form.