Coronavirus COVID-19: Latest Update

Here we outline the recent changes to Government advice in relation to schools and COVID-19

17 January 2022 

Staff absences in the Spring Term

With 1-in-20 teachers off work on 6 January as a result of Covid, it has become abundantly clear that the omicron variant is having a ‘highly significant’ impact on the operation of schools.

Latest official figures show 8.6 per cent of teachers and school leaders were absent on 6 January - and 4.9 per cent were absent because of Covid, up from 3 per cent on 16 December. In addition, 8.9 per cent of teaching assistants and other staff were absent from open schools, up from 7.3 per cent. 

Higher rates of staff absence are making a very challenging situation much worse for schools struggling to maintain appropriate staffing levels without disrupting pupils’ education.

NSEAD understands that in some schools there is no effective system in place for deploying CO2 monitors in classrooms. Ensuring good ventilation is vital to minimising further disruption to pupils’ education whilst assisting with minimising the risk of Covid infection.

NSEAD has additionally learned that support staff are being used more flexibly to cover for teachers isolating with Covid.  The Department for Education (DfE) has issued guidance encouraging schools to use support staff “more flexibly” in the Spring Term. Whilst the spread of the Omicron variant is causing high numbers of staff absences in schools and that learning must continue for pupils, this should not be done on the cheap, as schools should make all appropriate endeavours to secure suitably trained and qualified supply staff. Other ‘flexible’ measures such as merging classes undermines everything schools have done to try to limit the virus spread.  Additionally, the education benefits are minimal when classrooms are overcrowded, and health risks to pupils and staff increase. 

 

Update to sickness absence - relaxation to the fit note system 

The change, announced before Christmas and set to run until at least 26 January, means an employee who is off sick can only ask for a fit note from their GP after 28 days of absence, rather than the usual seven days. The government said it was making the changes to relieve pressure on GPs and allow them to concentrate on getting patients the Covid booster vaccine. 

If any NSEAD Trade Union member encounters any difficulties with their employer as a consequence of this new measure which could undermine existing sickness absence policies, please contact NSEAD for help, support and advice.

 

 

4 January 2022

NSEAD members may already be aware that the Department for Education published additional Covid Guidance on 2nd January, which stated:

  • all pupils in year 7 and above are required to wear face coverings in all school communal areas, including classrooms, until at least 26th January
  • schools should update their health and safety risk assessments which should additionally ensure that a contingency plan is in place in the event of a Covid outbreak

Furthermore, the DFE emailed all schools on 2nd January referencing measures schools should consider taking to mitigate against staff absence due to Covid. (As this is government advice, it is not mandatory for schools to follow this prescriptively)

They suggested that schools ‘may wish to use existing teaching, temporary and support staff more flexibly where required to ensure your setting remains open, whilst ensuring that you continue to have appropriate support in place for pupils with SEND. As pupils do not need to be kept in consistent groups, you may wish to consider combining classes.’

NSEAD fully appreciates that teachers may be required to cover on occasions that are rare and when unforeseen absence occurs. Clearly, absence due to Covid is something which is foreseeable/predictable and likely, so NSEAD strongly recommends that employers utilise alternative measures such as hiring supply teachers.

NSEAD considers the combining of classes to not be an appropriate mitigation and measure, especially within the confines and constraints of Art, Craft and Design classrooms, which themselves should be subject to limitations on class sizes and numbers.

Employers risk assessments need to demonstrate how the employer will deal with staff absences whilst simultaneously managing the risks of Covid transmission.

It remains a viable option for employers, where they cannot guarantee that the safety measures within their risk assessment can be maintained due to Covid related staffing shortages, to send pupils home. This position is supported by DfE guidance that confirms the requirement to continue to provide remote education for pupils who cannot attend school still remains in place. 

 

 

4 December 2021

NSEAD members may already be aware that the Department for Education published additional Covid Guidance on 2nd January, which stated:

  • all pupils in year 7 and above are required to wear face coverings in all school communal areas, including classrooms, until at least 26th January
  • schools should update their health and safety risk assessments which should additionally ensure that a contingency plan is in place in the event of a Covid outbreak

 

Furthermore, the DFE emailed all schools on 2nd January referencing measures schools should consider taking to mitigate against staff absence due to Covid. (As this is government advice, it is not mandatory for schools to follow this prescriptively)

They suggested that schools ‘may wish to use existing teaching, temporary and support staff more flexibly where required to ensure your setting remains open, whilst ensuring that you continue to have appropriate support in place for pupils with SEND. As pupils do not need to be kept in consistent groups, you may wish to consider combining classes.’

NSEAD fully appreciates that teachers may be required to cover on occasions that are rare and when unforeseen absence occurs. Clearly, absence due to Covid is something which is foreseeable/predictable and likely, so NSEAD strongly recommends that employers utilise alternative measures such as hiring supply teachers.

NSEAD considers the combining of classes to not be an appropriate mitigation and measure, especially within the confines and constraints of Art, Craft and Design classrooms, which themselves should be subject to limitations on class sizes and numbers.

Employers risk assessments need to demonstrate how the employer will deal with staff absences whilst simultaneously managing the risks of Covid transmission.

It remains a viable option for employers, where they cannot guarantee that the safety measures within their risk assessment can be maintained due to Covid related staffing shortages, to send pupils home. This position is supported by DfE guidance that confirms the requirement to continue to provide remote education for pupils who cannot attend school still remains in place.

 

 

14 December 2021

Changes to Government guidance - isolation

The Government have announced new arrangements in relation to COVID-19 positive cases and close contacts, which come into effect from midnight on Tuesday 14 December 2021.

The advice is for all close contacts of a COVID-19 case (irrespective of the variant), who do not have COVID-19 symptoms:

  • For double vaccinated adults, and children & young people aged 5 - 17 - they do not need to isolate, but should take daily lateral flow tests (LFTs) for 7 days after the last day of contact with the case(s)
  • Under 5s do not need to isolate or take daily LFTs
  • If they are adults who are not double vaccinated, then they need to isolate for 10 days after last contact with the case(s)

 

In addition, it is strongly recommended that all close contacts (of both Omicron and Delta cases) take a PCR test and do not attend the school setting until they have received a negative PCR result.  This is an interim position until the end of term with a view to protecting school communities and families for over the Christmas period. 

For any close contacts who are currently isolating due to being a direct contact of an Omicron case, they can now return if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms and should take daily LFTs as above. It is advisable though that you do not attend the setting before taking a PCR and receiving a negative result.

Education settings cannot refuse a child or young person from attending on the basis of not having a PCR or undertaking daily LFTs, but they can be refused if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or if there are concerns they have COVID-19 (e.g. wider symptoms of COVID-19 such as headache, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches - particularly if there are already cases in your setting).

Information for families on how to collect LFTs is available here.

 

Additional note regarding vulnerable children/young people

We have all been distressed by the tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes which has been in the news recently.  Please do ensure you notify multi-agency colleagues on all occasions when vulnerable children are not attending school, alongside making your usual safeguarding checks and provision for remote learning activities.

If you have concerns that a child is suffering ANY form of neglect, abuse or cruelty, ensure your concerns are raised immediately.