Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

On general matters related to COVID-19, you should follow Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools (publishing.service.gov.uk) which is updated regularly and contact your Local Authority.

We are in an unprecedented situation and this HR advice is based on the information available, which is limited in some areas, and our professional judgements.

In line with Government guidance, schools are now looking at:

  • Assessing necessary staffing requirements in school to support children of critical workers and vulnerable children, including assessing who can and cannot attend work based on the Government guidance
  • Facilitating as many staff as possible to work from home, supporting remote learning for students not in school and other activities as required
  • Consulting staff to inform plans, updating school Health & Safety Risk Assessments and undertaking individual risk assessments where applicable
  • In secondary and special, considering the staffing needs for mass testing where this is to be offered

We have provided a range of FAQs relating to schools during the COVID-19 lockdown phase which can be found below.

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Attendance

1. Staff with confirmed COVID-19 virus

Must NOT attend work and must self-isolate until they are well. Staff should notify the school when they are fit to work.

They are entitled to contractual sick pay under their contract of employment.

1a. Staff showing symptoms of COVID-19

Must NOT attend work and must self-isolate for at least 10 days and then in line with NHS advice. They, and their household should be tested for the virus if they have symptoms.

Schools should clarify with the employee if they are ill – i.e. would not be fit to attend work even if they were not required to self-isolate.  If they are well enough to work, they should work from home where possible. Where they cannot work from home, they should obtain an isolation note and submit a copy to the school. If the employee does not get tested, they must complete the recommended period of self-isolation and then return to work unless it is confirmed that they have contracted the virus.

1b. Staff living with someone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19

Must NOT attend work and must self-isolate for at least 10 days. The person with symptoms should access a test. If this is negative, members of their household can stop isolating and return to work, unless they themselves develop symptoms, in which case they should access a test.

1c. Staff have been told to isolate through the Track and Trace

Must NOT attend work and must self-isolate for at least 10 days.

Members of the household of someone who has been told to isolate through track and trace do not have to self-isolate unless the person told to self-isolate displays symptoms or unless instructed through track and trace.

2. We have CEV staff who want to come into work – what should we do?

CEV staff should not attend the workplace under any circumstances.

2a. Will CEV staff be able to return to work when they have had their vaccination?

No. The letter and advice to CEV staff says that they should continue to follow the shielding advice until further notice, as the impact of vaccination among all groups continues to be assessed.

3. Staff living with someone who is clinically vulnerable, extremely clinically vulnerable or otherwise at increased risk

CAN ATTEND work if necessary. The general risk assessment should mitigate relevant risks. However, schools should ask staff who consider they have particular circumstances, to complete the individual risk assessment form and have discussions with these individuals, using the risk assessment as a framework.

4. A member of staff does not want to send their child to available provision (school, nursery etc.)

School staff are critical workers and are therefore able to send their children to school/nursery and/or access their normal childcare provision. Schools should explore the specific circumstances of each case and be as flexible as possible, but ultimately where staff elect not to use available childcare provision and therefore say they will not attend work or cannot work from home, there is no entitlement for them to be paid.

Deployment

5. Can we ask all our staff to come into school?

Most schools are to remain closed for all but vulnerable children and children of critical workers who need to send their children to school. Nursery and Special Schools remain fully open, subject to capacity.

Daily staffing levels in school should be restricted to the number necessary to ensure children in school are educated and supported safely. The numbers will depend on the number of children in attendance and bubble arrangements/ organisation. Other staff should work from home. Schools will need to balance workloads and availability of staff to support pupils in school and remote learning for other students.

6. Can staff be asked to undertake different roles?

Yes. Flexibility is essential at this time and staff may need to be re-deployed to meet needs. Any temporary re-assignment of roles/tasks must be discussed with staff concerned and be within their area of competence.

7. Can Teaching Assistants/ LSAs cover classes?

Yes. The Government has confirmed that LSAs and HLTAs can cover classes under the supervision of a teacher. The school must ensure they have appropriate skills, knowledge and support (including LSA support as a teacher would have). The teacher retains overall responsibility for pupils’ learning and would be expected to do as much as possible to contribute to lessons.

8. Can we change working patterns and overall hours of work of staff to meet needs?

Yes. It may be necessary and would be reasonable to temporarily adjust working times and this will be part of the planning you discuss and agree with staff to enable provision to be delivered. For example, schools may need to adjust/stagger start and finish times for pupils and this will require changes to staff attendance times. Schools will have to take individual circumstances into account (NB consider any variations to their own childrens’ school attendance times) and ensure staff get appropriate breaks, but it is expected that staff will co-operate with reasonable adjustments.

Workload issues

9. Can we use agency/supply staff/casual staff/sports coaches?

Yes. In light of guidance about minimising the circulation of staff (i.e. assigning specific staff to groups of pupils), schools will want to discuss:

  • A regular consistent commitment to cover a particular group, period, activity, to protect bubbles
  • What other work they are undertaking and what, if any, additional risks this may pose (e.g. it would be preferable, but not wholly unacceptable for a supply teacher to not be visiting two different schools in the same day).
  • Being particularly vigilant about socially distancing, especially with other adults

10. What can we ask staff do to at home?

Where staff are not attending the workplace, they should work from home wherever possible. This will include providing remote learning and welfare support for students. It is expected that everyone engages fully in what is necessary to support students who are not attending at school, as well as those in school.

11. We have staff on maternity leave who want to use their Keeping in Touch (KIT) days to support provision/testing – is this OK?

Yes. Those on maternity leave can use their KIT days, by agreement with the school. However, they cannot work more than the maximum of 10 KIT days. If they work over this number this will end their maternity leave and pay and they will be deemed to have returned to work. Any work on any day counts as a KIT day so the 10 days cannot be split into more part days.

Protective Measures and Testing

12. What is the position on PPE?

The current  DfE advice is:

  • Primary: In situations where social distancing between adults in settings is not possible (for example when moving around in corridors and communal areas), settings have the discretion to recommend the use of face coverings for adults on site, for both staff and visitors.
  • Secondary: face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

Exemptions apply and no-one should be excluded from education or employment on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

13. Can we carry out temperature checks on staff?

Schools are not expected nor encouraged to temperature check staff, but if this is included in your risk assessment, all staff will need to be notified in advance.

14. Can we insist that staff take a test if they display symptoms?

Under their contract of employment, staff have an obligation to take all reasonable steps to enable them to attend work. In the current circumstances, this would include getting a test if they have Covid symptoms to confirm whether or not they have the virus and therefore should refrain from attending the workplace. However, schools cannot insist that an individual takes a test, only strongly encourage them to do so. Schools should also bear in mind the difficulties in accessing tests and testing centres.

Where staff are isolating due to family members displaying symptoms, schools can encourage staff to urge their family members to access a test but again cannot insist.

15. We are engaging in the testing programme for schools – can we insist staff participate?

No. Although all staff should be strongly encouraged to participate, it is entirely voluntary. If they choose not to participate you will still need to pay them if they fall ill and/or have to isolate.

16. Can we ask for evidence of test results?

It is not necessary to do so but you can ask to see test results if there are particular concerns. Schools participating in the mass testing will have access to lateral flow test results.

HR Procedures

17. We are recruiting new staff – can we invite them in for interview if we observe social distancing?

This is a matter for schools but the DfE guidance is that visitors should be kept to a minimum and where necessary, attend premises outside of pupil attendance times where possible. Our advice, in the light of the DfE advice is that it would certainly not be appropriate to show perspective candidates around the school during the school day or allow them to engage with pupils, even if social distancing can be maintained.

18. Can we have one to one face to face meetings with staff?

Schools should take a pragmatic view, bearing in mind the general advice is that contact should be kept to a minimum. It is recognised that face to face dialogues will be necessary for many reasons, in which case social distancing measures should be observed, rooms well ventilated etc.

19. Can we proceed with face to face formal hearings (e.g. disciplinary)?

It is recognised that such matters will need to be dealt with and schools should take a pragmatic view, bearing in mind the general advice is that contact should be kept to a minimum. Where parties agree, hearings can be progressed via video conferencing. Where this is not possible or practical, in person meetings can resume, subject to appropriate risk assessments.

In the case of redundancies and restructurings, these processes can resume but ‘in person’ group staff consultation meetings should be avoided.

20. How should we be approaching Performance Management?

Where employees are working from home schools will need to:

There has been no change in the appraisal regulations for teachers or the contractual process for support staff. For all staff, schools should agree a pragmatic, consistent and reasonable approach, ensuring that no employee is penalised during the appraisal process or in respect of any subsequent pay progression decisions as a result of partial school closures and/or staff inability to attend the workplace or fulfil their normal duties, where this has impacted on the ability of the staff to meet fully their objectives. Specific guidance has been issued in relation to induction for newly qualified teachers.