September is almost upon us and children will be returning to school next week. This will be the start of a school year like no other though.
We recognise that there are some of our members who remain anxious at the prospect of returning to school. This is understandable. Whilst we remain confident that as a council RCT have provided schools with appropriate advice and stringent guidance, it is the responsibility of each individual school’s Governing Body/Headteacher to ensure their site specific Covid-19 Risk Assessments are detailed and updated from those that were shared with you in June.
Risk Assessments are important documents, but unless the information they contain is implemented on a day to day basis they become worthless.
RCT’s Education Convenor Dean Price commented “It is UNISON’s clear expectation that Covid-19 Risk Assessments will be made available to you upon arrival at school on Tuesday September 1st. It is crucial that you have the opportunity to scrutinise these, and raise any concern you may have before pupils return later in the week. If Head Teacher’s do not react and respond appropriately to your comments you must inform UNISON.”
“Your schools Covid-19 Risk assessment should be reviewed on a regular basis, and you should be involved in that process” “The procedures for pupils arriving at school in the morning and leaving at the end of the day must be included”. It is vital we continue to take personal responsibility by practicing regular hand washing/sanitizing and practice appropriate social distancing whenever possible.
In those instances where social distancing is not able to be achieved your school’s Covid-19 Risk Assessment needs to identify the circumstances and detail the processes for dealing with such circumstances. UNISON has been assured by RCT Council that the enhanced cleaning provision that was made available to schools when they partially reopened in June will remain in September. This is vital to ensure the regular cleaning of hard surfaces, door handles and toilets during the school day. It is also essential that where there is shared equipment and resources, such as sports equipment, art and science equipment that this is thoroughly cleaned between use”.
It is the preferred process for young people to have their own personal supply of pens, pencils, rulers etc wherever possible. It should also remain an aspiration for the sharing of equipment both between pupils and adults to be avoided whenever possible. For staff this will include the use of staffroom facilities. You should ensure that your schools Covid-19 Risk Assessment explains this. It is also the school’s responsibility to ensure you are provided with adequate supplies of soap, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). This is NOT optional.
The availability and use of PPE remains of paramount importance. This is particularly crucial for those staff who are working one to one with pupils with additional needs or in circumstances where social distancing is unachievable. Face shields, goggles, disposal gloves and disposable aprons must be available for those staff.
We are aware some members, although it is not as a requirement, would feel more comfortable wearing a face covering even when social distancing can be achieved during the day. This is an individual’s choice and one which RCT council is happy for you to make.
UNISON expects all schools to follow the council’s position regarding this. You must take individual responsibility to ensure reusable face coverings are washed at an appropriate temperature before using again. Single use masks must be disposed of in a safe way.
Whilst UNISON recognises there are going to be circumstances within a classroom setting where effective social distancing is not going to be achievable, it remains UNISON’s expectation that schools have robust planning in place to reduce contact and maximise distancing wherever possible. This will minimise the potential for contamination.
There is currently strong public health advice that staff in Secondary schools should maintain distancing from their learners by staying at the front of the class. It is also an expectation that, whenever possible, staff should maintain a 2m distance from each other. Realistically, with over one hundred schools in RCT there is the potential for a Coronavirus outbreak to occur during the Autumn term. The recent outbreak in a Dundee school is evidence of how easily this can occur.
Dean Price commented, “If this happens UNISON is confident the council has in place processes to address it. Each individual school must be aware of what these processes are. Any outbreak in an individual school should be effectively dealt with without the need to impact upon other schools across RCT. However, this will only be achieved if the action taken is immediate, co –ordinated and decisive.”
In response to queries we have had from members who are required to return to school next week who may have underlying medical conditions, or have previously been shielding the position is as follows:
These staff should have completed the council’s individual risk assessment, and for those who have scored in the high risk or very high risk category some adjustments may need to be in place to enable you to return to your working environment.
Discussions about what these adjustments look like need to take place with your Headteacher. Input from the council’s Occupational health unit can be sought where necessary.
An example could be that one of the adjustments is the wearing of PPE even in circumstances where social distancing is able to be achieved. Finally, we are all aware of the importance of getting young people back to school to continue their Education and development. We are also aware of the risks the continued presence of Covid-19 presents. Effectively used Risk Assessments and continued vigilance from everyone is vital to minimise the risks. It is essential that any concerns you may have are raised and dealt with. It is hoped that you will have the confidence as individuals or groups to raise these directly with your school. If not, you must raise them with UNISON.
RCT’s Education Convenor commented “unfortunately there remains some members who are fearful to raise issues with a small number of Head Teacher’s for fear of repercussions. UNISON is very clear that this is not the position of RCT council. The council is very supportive of staff who raise legitimate concerns in the appropriate way. The presence of Covid-19 continues to present significant challenges for everyone. ALL Head Teachers must expect to be challenged by staff. Our continued health and Wellbeing depends on it.”
If you require further information or advice please contact Dean Price RCT’s Education Convenor Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01443 400401