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Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

On general matters related to COVID-19, you should follow Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance (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 and colleges will reopen to all pupils from 8th March.

  • All primary school children will return on Monday 8th March.
  • Secondary schools and colleges will have discretion on how to stagger the return of their students over the week of 8th March to allow them to be tested on return.

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, despite the Government Advice – what should we do?

The Government guidance advises shielding till 31st March even where the person has had both doses of the vaccine. It is strong advice not the law.

Our advice remains that CEV staff should not come in, but it is for the school to decide on each case. We suggest that where an employee insists they want to come in, the employee should seek advice from their GP and the school should check with their employee liability insurers.

The school must do an individual risk assessment and the employee must sign this to acknowledge their wish to attend.  Obviously, the school cannot require shielding staff attend.

We are also aware that some people who have recently been added to the shielding list have received a slightly different shielding letter – indicating they are ‘low risk’ and ‘should make an informed choice’. In those cases, we suggest the same process.

Some others have received a letter despite having no medical conditions – we have suggested they challenge this with their GP and can attend – with risk assessment as above.

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 at least 31st March, 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

SHOULD 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.

Deployment

4. 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

5. 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

Protective Measures and Testing

6. What is the position on face masks?

The current  DfE advice is:

Primary: In primary schools, it is recommended that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas). Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.

Secondary: Where pupils in year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on 31 August 2020) and above are educated, it is recommended that 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.

Face coverings do not need to be worn by pupils when outdoors on the premises.

In addition, it is also now recommended in those schools, that face coverings should be worn in classrooms or during activities unless social distancing can be maintained. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons.

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

There maybe be other specific exceptional circumstances, to mitigate a specific risk to a specific individual, where face coverings may be agreed when teaching/directly supporting pupils learning.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Can we ask for evidence of vaccinations?

You can ask for confirmation and/or evidence on a voluntary basis to record on individual risk assessments but cannot require staff to share this personal medical information.

Schools must not differentiate in any way between those who have had the vaccine and those who have not.  All the normal measures, systems of control and risk assessments must be applied equally, whether or not a person has received the vaccine.

11. Can we insist that staff who are offered the vaccine take it?

No. Vaccination is voluntary and people will have various reasons for not taking it – this is their choice. If they choose not to participate you will still need to pay them if they fall ill and/or have to isolate.

HR Procedures

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

See Also: