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Schools in England and covid-19 - your questions answered

Minimising contact and transmission and new rules on isolation

 

Test and trace

 

Managing a suspected outbreak

 

Health and safety, risk assessments and RIDDOR

 

Inspection, remote learning and supporting pupils at home

 

Staff management and support


 

Minimising contact and transmission and new rules on isolation

 

What do I need to read to prepare for the return to school in September?

The DfE has published an updated contingency framework for education and childcare settings and an updated schools and covid-19 operational guidance on 17 August 2021; these are the key documents to review. 

The updated contingency framework describes the principles of managing local outbreaks of coronavirus (including responding to variants of concern) in education and childcare settings, covering:

•    the types of measures that settings should be prepared for
•    who can recommend these measures and where
•    when measures should be lifted
•    how decisions are made. 

The updated schools covid-19 operational guidance contains changes to the previous version, including: 

•    an update to make clear who is no longer required to isolate if identified as a close contact, including clarifying that this includes young people up to the age of 18 years and six months (it previously said 18 years and four months)
•    added additional detail on what close contacts should do while awaiting their PCR test results
•    updated information on contingency planning in schools, with link to updated ‘contingency framework’.
 

Can I re-start assemblies and other whole-school gatherings?

Yes. The guidance now allows for this as bubble requirements have finished in relation to day-to-day operations.  However, some measures such as stopping assemblies and whole school gatherings may be contained in your outbreak management plan.  

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Am I still expected to carry out any contact tracing?

No. All test and tracing responsibilities has now moved over to NHS test and trace.

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Could I be required to reintroduce some measures such as face coverings and bubbles in the academic year 2021- 2022?

Yes, this is a possibility if there is an outbreak in your school or if there is a significant increase in covid cases in your local area. In the case of an outbreak in your school you could be told to implement additional safety measures once you have reported it via the DfE helpline, which we recommend continuing to do. Alternatively, your local director of public health/local public health team could tell you to re-implement some additional safety measures if there are concerns about case numbers in your region. Again, we recommend reporting any outbreaks in your school to your local public health team to ensure they are aware of the specific situation in your setting. Your local public health team should talk to you about the measures that may need to be reintroduced, but we would expect these to be measures that you have previously had in place during 2020/21.

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Can I still require staff/pupils/visitors to wear face coverings?

Given the change to national policy on face coverings, it is likely you will find it difficult to require people to wear face masks in school. However, you could, in line with your risk assessment, consider requesting that visitors and staff to wear face coverings in certain circumstances. Again, this would need to be carefully communicated in advance.

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Can I prevent pupils, staff and visitors from wearing a face covering?

While case numbers remain relatively high, we don’t recommend actively refusing to allow individual pupils, staff and visitors to wear face coverings in school. If there are concerns regarding communication, it would be reasonable to ask people to use transparent face coverings as outlined in the DfE guidance.

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Am I able to keep or re-implement additional measures that go beyond the government guidance?

The government guidance is clear that the ‘standard’ measures to be implemented are:

  • enhanced cleaning,
  • hand hygiene, and
  • good ventilation.

The government is also clear that it no longer sees face coverings, staggered start and end times or ‘bubbles’ as part of the standard approach.

Notwithstanding the government’s position, a risk assessment should also be completed in addition to this to see if there any setting-specific mitigations that should be put in place/retained where they don’t significantly impact the delivery of education. The key here will be that measures should not prevent pupils from receiving ‘in-school’ education during the normal school day – for example, staggered starts would not be an appropriate ‘base-line’ mitigation, whereas one-way systems in corridors would.

The setting-specific mitigations you may wish to continue with or institute could be virtual parents evenings, staff meetings to take place in the largest and well-ventilated room in the school, one-way systems in corridors, one way-systems for collection and drop-off, split play times and hand sanitising. As you can see all these mitigations are not particularly disruptive but may help reduce the transmission of the virus and should be considered as part of your risk assessment.  

If you are considering more significant measures such as the wearing of face coverings or staggered start and finish times, we would recommend you speak with either the DfE covid helpline or your local health protection team in advance.

It is worth noting that on 14.7.21 the DfE sent the following message to school leaders in its regular update:

“School and college leaders can take operational decisions about their own settings, but in doing so they should consider all steps and measures available and their impact on provision for students, using national guidance, their own risk assessments, and advice from their director of public health. Initial support for decision making should be sought from the DfE COVID-19 helpline on 0800 046 8687 or by referring to local arrangements. We expect schools and colleges to deliver a full curriculum or education and training programme, including any wider school or college offer for their students.”

NAHT believes that this gives school leaders a degree of flexibility should they decide to re-implement certain measures, but we have asked DfE to provide further clarity about which specific measures this refers to and will update our advice accordingly.

Our very detailed risk assessment guidance can be found here but we recommend liaising with your LA or Trust in relation to putting together an appropriate assessment. 

We recommend providing your suggested mitigations and completed risk assessment to your governors, local authority or trust so all parties are aware of the outcome of the risk assessment and suggested mitigations.

We have drafted a template letter that you can amend to suit your particular circumstances to send to parents noting the current position and the steps that you are taking.

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What should I do if I have rising positive tests in the school? What if I can’t reach my local public health team or the DfE helpline and am concerned?

While you should follow the government guidance and add any safety measures you’ve identified in your risk assessment into the way you operate, there may be instances where you have particular concerns about your school.

The contingency framework states that for “most settings it will make sense to think about taking extra action if the number of positive cases substantially increases.” This extra action is defined as reviewing and reinforcing the testing, hygiene and ventilation measures that settings already have in place.  It further states that settings should also consider:

  • whether any activities could take place outdoors, including exercise, assemblies, or classes
  • ways to improve ventilation indoors, where this would not significantly impact thermal comfort
  • one-off enhanced cleaning focusing on touch points and any shared equipment

NAHT is aware of the difficulties with some of these suggested actions; for example, moving activities outdoors in the winter months may be impractical and we would expect that ventilation is already maximised.  NAHT will continue to make these issues clear to the DfE as part of the ongoing talks.  Nonetheless, these are steps that you can take unilaterally if you meet the relevant thresholds.

The thresholds for what makes up this substantial increase are explained in our FAQ here.  

The contingency framework also states that settings may wish to seek additional public health advice if they are concerned about transmission in the setting, either by phoning the DfE helpline (0800 046 8687, option 1) or in-line with other local arrangements.  NAHT recommends members take this step.

In these instances, a director of public health or a PHE Health Protection Team may give settings advice reflecting the local situation. This could mean that additional action is advised, such as temporarily reinstating face coverings for pupils/students, staff and visitors in indoor and/or communal spaces in secondary schools, FE and HE settings, and for staff in primary, early years, out-of-school, and specialist settings. This should be for two weeks in the first instance, pending regular review. 

They may also recommend the actions listed under ‘Other Measures’ in the contingency framework, or other proportionate measures to support continuing face-to-face education. 
As a last resort where all other risk mitigations have not broken chains of in-school transmission, short-term attendance restrictions in a setting may be advised, such as sending home a class or year group.

What should you do, if, for example, cases escalate and you haven't been able to get an instruction to implement additional measures over and above those set out in your initial risk assessment or the additional actions where you have unilateral power to implement?. This could be because local public health teams are handling many cases and cannot respond to you in a timely manner. In this instance we recommend you consider moving to the lower level measures of your outbreak management plan if you have safety concerns that you feel must be addressed without delay. However, we also recommend that you record your attempts to contact the public health team or the DfE before doing this unilaterally. 

We also recommend that, in advance of this situation arising, perhaps at the start of term, you let your governors, local authority or trust know that you plan to take this step if extraordinary circumstances arise where you are concerned about safety and cannot get confirmation from local public health teams or the DfE that you ought to move to your outbreak management plan.

Finally, as always, we would recommend communicating any changes to parents clearly and with as much notice as possible in the circumstances.

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What should we do about heating and ventilation during the pandemic?

The HSE has stated that “employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace” and this has not changed. Good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus, so focus on improving general ventilation, preferably through fresh air or mechanical systems.

The HSE advice on air conditioning and ventilation during the pandemic can be found here.   HSE has also produced a very useful short video which can be viewed via YouTube here. This is a very useful piece of guidance and we would recommend reviewing its contents, this could also be shared with the LA/Trust and building manager.

Consideration should have been given to the ways you can best ventilate the school in the risk assessments you will have already completed.

Where possible, it is important to consider ways to maintain and increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors (unless fire doors). Also, consider if you can improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces. You can do this by using ceiling fans or desk fans, for example, provided good ventilation is maintained. The risk of transmission through the use of ceiling and desk fans is extremely low providing there is good ventilation in the area it is being used, preferably provided by fresh air.

Clearly, when in winter/early spring or late autumn some of the steps you may have taken to increase appropriate ventilation, such as opening windows, become more problematic. The regulations that govern temperatures in school, the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, do not specify minimum temperatures for any parts of a school, however, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which apply to all workplaces, including schools, set out requirements on minimum temperatures in workplaces. Regulation 7 requires that temperatures be “reasonable” and the accompanying Approved Code of Practice defines this as "normally at least 16°C.”  It is worth noting that this temperature recommendation is not an absolute legal requirement; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in particular circumstances. On that basis, a balance will need to be struck between providing appropriate ventilation and providing a reasonable temperature for pupils and staff to work in.

Again, the key to this will be to build the change in temperature into your risk assessment and determine how this will be approached. While there is no ‘easy answer’, planning in advance and speaking to staff about these plans will be key. There will be a range of questions you will want to work through including: Will heating be turned on and windows remain open? Is your heating system one that recirculates air; if so, has this been serviced and are there any additional considerations you need to take into account? (We advise that schools make contact with health and safety or property management teams within their LA/MAT to see if they have further advice or information about heating systems and how they operate.)

You will also want to consider if pupils and staff can be asked to wear extra layers to allow for temperatures to be slightly lower than normal so windows can be kept open for longer in the colder months. There are no ‘right’ answers here and we recommend working with your local authority or trust to come up with an approach. We also recommend informing the governors of the decisions taken in relation to this, so you can agree on communication to parents to ensure a united front. Finally, and importantly, we recommend making staff aware of the approach before a communication is sent to the parents.

Furthermore, the following guidance from the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations, REHVA, sets out a series of steps that schools can take to improve the number of air changes achieved within the school’s day, which includes actions before and after the school's day and during break periods between lessons. While improving ventilation is one control, schools should continue to ensure that the wider controls of social distancing, personal hygiene and enhanced cleaning are implemented and maintained. This guidance offers a series of factors that schools should consider. 

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Is there any advice about regular cleaning? 

The government has published specific advice about cleaning in non-healthcare settings, and this covers schools. You can find that guidance here

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Can schools still carry out lesson observations?

There is nothing in the government’s guidance that explicitly prohibits lesson observations, or senior leaders visiting classrooms this term. However, NAHT recommends that both of these activities should be included and documented in the school’s risk assessment, with appropriate additional protective measures put in place. For example, anyone visiting a classroom to carry out a lesson observation should adhere more strictly to social distancing rules and should ensure they wash hands both before entering and after leaving the classroom. Consideration should also be given to the amount of time spent in the classroom and limited where possible. 

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Can staff still deliver 1:1 interventions with pupils?

Yes, they can. 

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Test and trace

Can I refuse to allow a child who has been identified as a close contact to come to school if they have not taken a PCR test?

Our understanding is that schools will not routinely be told by test and trace who has been identified as a close contact as that communication will be between test and trace and the family in question. However, you may become aware of cases or potential cases through your school community.

The DfE’s guidance to schools (via its FAQs issued on 15.7.21) states:

“In exceptional cases, settings may decide to refuse a pupil if, in the setting's reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect those within the setting from possible infection with COVID-19. The decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice. Individuals should only be asked to stay home for Covid-related reasons if:

  • they or someone in their household is symptomatic
  • they or someone in their household has tested positive with a PCR or LFD (they may return if a positive LFD result is followed by a subsequent confirmatory PCR within 2 days)
  • (until August 16th) they have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact.

If settings are concerned about case rates in their setting, initial support may be sought from the DfE helpline: 0800 046 8687, option 1 or by referring to local arrangements.

You may wish, in your end of term letter, to remind parents that you expect them to carry out a PCR if their child has been identified as a close contact before they come to school. This would set out the school’s expectations which may be a useful reminder or persuade some parents but as noted above it isn’t possible for the school to enforce this requirement at the moment.

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Will I be contacted by track and trace every time there is a case in the school?

The current guidance suggests that you will only be contacted in ‘exceptional cases’, which is likely to be if health protection teams believe there could be an outbreak at your school. However, we would recommend that you ask parents to inform you as soon as possible if their child has a suspected or confirmed case and that you continue to keep clear records of pupils affected. Where you are aware of a number of cases arising, we recommend contacting the DfE helpline or your local public health team to ensure they are aware of this despite their being no obligation for you to do so.

We have already raised with DfE the issue of younger children testing positive and questioned how that will work in practice in terms of their ability to identify close contacts. While the DfE has said schools will only be contacted in ‘exceptional cases’, we are expecting that for younger children it is quite likely NHS test and trace will need to speak with the school to help them in their identification of close contacts. We will continue to raise this issue with DfE.

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If a pupil is identified as a close contact and told to get a PCR test by test and trace, should they remain absent from school until the result is received?

Our understanding of the guidance as it currently stands is that schools cannot require pupils to remain away from school if they are a close contact and are awaiting the results of a PCR test. NAHT is challenging this stance. 

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Can I share contact details of families with NHS Test and Trace if I am asked to?

The DfE’s guidance to schools (via its FAQs issued on 15.7.21) states:

Settings must not provide any personal information if asked to by parents and/or close contacts that would be a breach of GDPR or data protection legislation. In exceptional circumstances, education and childcare settings may be contacted by NHS Track and Trace if deemed necessary by local health protection teams in response to a local outbreak, as currently happens in managing other infectious diseases. 

In this scenario settings may share proportionate and relevant information as requested by NHS Track and Trace without consent. The sharing of information in these exceptional circumstance does not require consent as it is enabled by specific legislation, but to support this, the existing privacy notices should continue to be in place and be easily accessible.

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What are the changes to the self-isolation rules?

Individuals are not required to self-isolate if they live in the same household as someone with covid-19, or are a close contact of someone with covid-19, and any of the following apply:
•    they are fully vaccinated
•    they are below the age of 18 years and six months
•    they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved covid-19 vaccine trial
•    they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons. 

Instead, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test. 

The guidance states that “staff who do not need to isolate, and children and young people aged under 18 years 6 months who usually attend school, and have been identified as a close contact, should continue to attend school as normal. They do not need to wear a face covering within the school, but it is expected and recommended that these are worn when travelling on public or dedicated transport.”

It is an important point to note that 18-year-olds will be treated in the same way as children until six months after their 18th birthday, to allow them the opportunity to get fully vaccinated. At which point, they will be subject to the same rules as adults and so if they choose not to get vaccinated, they will need to self-isolate if identified as a close contact.

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Managing a suspected outbreak 

The contingency framework says that “it makes sense to think about taking extra action if the number of positive cases substantially increases.” What are the relevant thresholds for this?

The thresholds, set out below, can be used by settings as an indication for when to seek public health advice if they are concerned. 

For most education and childcare settings, whichever of these thresholds is reached first:
•    Five children, pupils, students or staff, who are likely to have mixed closely, test positive for covid-19 within a 10-day period; or
•    10% of children, pupils, students or staff who are likely to have mixed closely test positive for covid-19 within a 10-day period 

For special schools, residential settings, and settings that operate with 20 or fewer children, pupils, students and staff at any one time:

•    Two children, pupils, students and staff, who are likely to have mixed closely, test positive for covid-19 within a 10-day period.

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How do I identify who has “mixed closely”?

Identifying a group that is likely to have mixed closely will be different for each setting. The annex to the contingency framework gives examples for each sector, but a group will rarely mean a whole setting or year group.

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What needs to be in my ‘outbreak management plan’?

Many schools will have already developed some form of contingency/outbreak management plan, and of course many will have had experience of handling these. There is no requirement to write entirely new plans, instead we recommend schools review their existing plans in light of the new government guidance. We strongly recommend you draw on arrangements that have been in place in 2020/21. We note that some local authorities have published these plans online and so you may wish to review these plans if you’re beginning to create your own to understand what is developing best practice.

Your plan should outline what steps you would take in the event that an outbreak is identified in the school or in the scenario that you are asked by local public health teams to reintroduce some safety measures, such as use of face coverings, bubbles and increased social distancing (where possible). You may also want to plan for the scenario where groups of pupils, classes or year groups are not able to attend school and for the worse-case scenario of a short-term school closure. You should also consider plans should members of staff be unable to attend school. 

We also recommend that you read the government’s contingency framework before finalising the plan as it outlines the possible measures that could be reintroduced and the potential restrictions on attendance that could be introduced.

The plan could also outline key tasks such as communication to parents, staff, pupils and governors.

We recommend that you ask the governing board or trust board to agree the revised outbreak management plan as early as possible and you may want to discuss this with your local authority or trust if you have any concerns or want to try to align locally in terms of measures where appropriate to do so.

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Health and safety, risk assessments and RIDDOR

Do I now have to update my risk assessment?

By design, risk assessments should be dynamic documents and so these will need to be reviewed in light of the latest government guidance and reflect any changes, they also need to consider your particular setting and its risks. We would also recommend proactively reviewing the risk assessments of any members of staff previously identified as extremely clinically vulnerable or clinically vulnerable.

Further NAHT advice on risk assessments can be found here

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Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) – what are my obligations?

Background
The UK employers' duty to report injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences in the workplace applies in relation to covid-19. Recent guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which can be found here, states that not all cases concerning covid-19 need to be reported under RIDDOR, which can be found here.

In essence, the requirement to report does not arise simply by virtue of an instance taking place on work premises or because someone had been 'at work' in the period prior to any potential exposure to or diagnosis of covid-19. There must be a nexus or likely link between the dangerous occurrence, disease or death and the work activity or environment that was in existence at the time. This quite complicated picture of the application of the guidance has led to some uncertainty as to when and if a report under RIDDOR is required.

Reporting requirements
HSE’s guidance states that a RIDDOR report is only required in the following circumstances:

  1. A dangerous occurrence occurs when an accident or incident at work has, or could have, led to the release or escape of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
  2. A case of disease occurs when a worker is diagnosed as having covid-19 and the diagnosis is attributed to occupational exposure to coronavirus.
  3. A work-related death due to a biological agent occurs when a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus.

It would be wrong to assume that all cases of covid-19 in a workplace context do not need to be reported to the HSE or other relevant regulators. Equally, it would be an over-simplification to adopt the position that all cases of covid-19 among workers must be reported under RIDDOR.

As is often the case in relation to health and safety reporting, there is likely to be a finely balanced judgement as to whether a case of covid-19 is reportable, not least because the consequences of making a mistake could be serious. Failure to report a case that meets the legal threshold may constitute a criminal offence which carries the potential for an unlimited fine. Conversely, reporting when there is no legal obligation to do so could give rise to unnecessary regulatory scrutiny or investigation.

Who has to make the report?
The duty to notify and report rests with the ‘responsible person’ under the terms of the legislation. This means that the legal responsibility and thus accountability for health and safety lies with the employer – but there are exceptions to this (please see further below). While this seems straightforward, who the employer is depends on the type of school.

England and Wales

School type

Employer

Community schools

The local authority

Community special schools

Voluntary controlled schools 

Maintained nursery schools

Pupil referral units

Foundation schools

The governing body

Foundation special schools

Voluntary aided schools

Independent schools

The governing body or proprietor

 
England

School type

Employer

Academies and free schools

The Academy Trust

 

In addition to this, some school employers may have centrally coordinated reporting procedures. In others, reporting requirements may be delegated to the school management team. The health and safety policy should set out the responsibilities and arrangements for reporting in each school.

As a first step, we recommend ensuring that you’re clear whether or not the obligation to report has been delegated to you as part of the management team or sits with the employer. If it sits with the employer, then you will only be responsible for notifying them of issues and it will be for them to decide whether or not the reporting obligation has been triggered.

A finely balanced decision
If you find that you are responsible for reporting and find yourself in doubt about whether a report is required, it may be useful to contact the HSE helpline for further guidance. It is important to remember that a report may not necessarily lead to any action being taken by HSE, especially during the current circumstances, where the spread of the virus is prevalent and there remains uncertainty as to whether workplace exposure is likely to be the cause of the contraction of the virus. In addition, we would recommend writing to your chair of governors to confirm that you intend to report under RIDDOR and that you will let the employer know this is happening (rather than seek permission), as where a RIDDOR is required, it must be made without delay using the appropriate online form available on HSE’s website.

If you determine that a covid-19 case is not reportable under RIDDOR, it is advised that you clearly document your decision and the rationale for it.

Review of risk assessments
It is worth noting that a reportable incident may indicate that your control measures are ineffective and so you should review your covid-19 risk assessment to check if the control measures you have in place remain effective. Even if the control measures are effective, you might consider if there are compliance issues that have caused the incident and if you need to do anything to improve compliance.

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Am I required to undertake an equality impact assessment alongside any risk assessments?

An equality impact assessment (EIA) is an analysis of a proposed organisational policy, or a change to an existing one, which assesses whether the policy has a disparate impact on persons with protected characteristics which schools are required to adhere to by law. Essentially, this means that schools are required to assess the impact their proposed policies have on equality, but there is not a specified way in which to do so. 

Given it is likely that there have been a number of changes to schools' risk assessments in recent months and in light of evidence that suggests certain groups with protected characteristics are at particular risk, NAHT encourages schools in England to consider the use of equality impact assessments or some other similar form of written record when developing their risk assessments; this is to help them demonstrate that there has been active consideration of equality duties and they have considered the appropriate, relevant questions.

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What is NAHT’s advice if other unions provide me with a checklist for risk assessments?

A number of teaching and support staff unions have previously published checklists for their members. This may take place again.

We expect that as with previous versions, there will be a number of helpful points raised that schools will consider as part of their ongoing, dynamic risk assessments if they haven’t already done so.

We need to point out that the checklist items, including the 15% figure quoted, are not binding on schools or school leaders. The checklist represents advice to members of the unions listed. It is not guidance that schools are obliged to follow.

While schools should continue to engage with all their staff fully, and union representatives when it comes to risk assessments, they are not under any obligation to demonstrate they have met all the items outlined in a particular checklist provided to them. Your responsibilities are to discharge your duties appropriately, and you can find NAHT’s advice to leaders here.

Ultimately, any checklist produced is for the members of those unions to use, and individual members of staff will make their decisions about what they choose to do as a result of that. We will continue to support and advise our members based on the individual circumstances they face in their school.

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Can union-appointed health and safety representatives inspect the school and if so, what notice should they give?

Union-appointed health and safety representatives can inspect the workplace. Normally, they have to give reasonable notice in writing when they intend to carry out a formal inspection of the workplace and have not inspected it in the previous three months. If there is a substantial change in conditions of work or HSE publishes new information on hazards, the representatives are entitled to carry out inspections before three months have elapsed, or if it is by agreement.

However, the requirement for reasonable notice doesn’t apply where there has been an incidence of a notifiable disease such as covid. In this situation, health and safety representatives also have the right to carry out inspections and only need to give notice where it is reasonably practicable to do so. This means that the usual notice requirements don’t apply. Given this, we would expect that any refusal to allow an inspection should only be done for good reason as it’s likely that the person refusing to allow the inspection would need to be able to justify this. For example, it may not be appropriate for the representative to carry out an inspection when pupils are on-site and covid control systems are in operation or, for example, after the premises have been thoroughly cleaned ready for the next day.

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I’m not happy about the way the school is doing things, even after a risk assessment. What else can I do?

Preparing effective risk assessments which meet the needs of all staff and pupils can prove challenging as senior leaders seek to create positive working environments in which everyone feels confident working and being in school. It is important that school leaders when consulting with staff, consider current guidance from external specialist agencies, trade unions and the DfE to ensure that the risk assessments they put in place are as robust as possible. 

It is important to recognise the challenges which covid-19 brings to all schools and that the strategies employed to manage these will be different across regions depending upon local circumstances and will also be different in different school settings. Members should continue to work with their school to find solutions before considering taking any action against the employer. In cases where discussions are exhausted members should contact NAHT to consider alternative ways of pursuing the issue.

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Inspection, remote learning and supporting pupils at home

What is happening about performance data in 2022?

On 19 July, the DfE published an update, Coronavirus (COVID-19): school and college accountability 2021/22, which sets out the way school and college accountability will operate for the 2021/22 academic year. Members should read the update, but a brief summary of the key points is below. 

For the 2021/22 academic year DfE will publish national, regional, and local authority level educational performance data for key stage 2 (KS2), key stage 4 (KS4) and 16-18 and they intend to also publish this information by pupil characteristic and school or college type.

Primary
Data from primary school tests and assessments will not be published in KS2 performance tables in academic year 2021/22. 

The normal suite of KS2 accountability measures at school level will be shared these securely with primary schools, academy trusts, local authorities and Ofsted for school improvement purposes

Secondary
KS4 and 16-18 performance measures will be published on school and college performance tables, using the normal suite of accountability measures, as far as that is possible. 

The DfE recognises the uneven impact on schools and colleges of the pandemic and will ensure clear messages are placed on the performance tables to advise caution when drawing conclusions from the 2021/22 data. 

The calculation of some performance measures will need to be adjusted to take account of the fact that results of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 and 2020/21 will not be included. 

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How should I manage complaints about remote learning?

Emphasise the positive
In most cases, the complainants will be very much in the minority, particularly as we will hopefully move to a situation where this is used far more infrequently as time goes on. Use any opportunity available to publicise the fact that you have received much in the way of thanks and support for the efforts staff are making to produce effective work for children learning at home.

1. Make a point of highlighting the excellent work your staff are doing in these challenging circumstances.

2. Proactively explain how your work fits with government guidelines
The DfE’s guidance states remote education should be ' equivalent in length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school’. And, as a minimum, the amount of remote education provided should be for key stage one: three hours a day on average across the cohort (less for younger children), key stage two: four hours a day; and key stages three and four: five hours a day.  Details of this can be found here.

Schools are required to 'have regard' to this guidance. This means that schools must take into account the guidance and the ‘expectations’ it sets in deciding what remote education to provide.

However, there is no strict legal obligation as to the quantity or quality of remote education to be provided.

There is no expectation that you must provide live lessons and, if you are challenged on this, you may wish to highlight this recent article from Ofsted that states 'live lessons aren’t always best'.

A statement on your website should set out your remote provision offer, and you can use this to outline how you are meeting government guidelines.

Each school is different, and you will need to develop an offer that works for your context and unique set of circumstances.

Where short-term disruptions, such as staff illness, make it harder to deliver remote learning as normal, it is important to explain this situation to parents so they understand the reason for any reduction in provision.

3. Dealing with complaint campaigns

  • all based on the same subject
  • from complainants unconnected with the school.

We recommend you include a separate procedure in your complaints policy to handle complaints of this nature. This could include:

  • sending a template response to all complainants (referring to the school’s remote learning policy)
  • publishing a single response on the school’s website.

In accordance with the duty on schools to publish their complaints procedures online under the School Information (England) Regulations 2008, any alternative process must be included in the complaints procedure published on the school’s website.

If your complaints policy makes reference to this, it might be appropriate to place something positive on your website as an answer to the campaigners, suggesting that any individuals who are still not satisfied and wish to raise their own concerns should do so via a specific email address.

4. Dealing with social media postings
There is evidence of vituperative and false comments being made on social media, often personal and upsetting in nature around this issue. You can gain very good advice about the possibility of managing these posts from Professionals Online Safety Helpline, the contact details for which are here.

5. Use your complaints procedure
In many instances, complaints about remote learning will be resolved through an initial conversation with the class teacher. As with any complaint, it is important to try and keep an open mind about the issue being raised and look for straightforward ways to resolve the matter wherever possible. Where this is not the case, it may be necessary to escalate the complaint through your usual procedure. It is extremely important that you are able to demonstrate that you have followed the school’s existing procedure.

You have followed the DfE’s guidance and developed a policy to explain your school’s approach to remote learning; your staff are working very hard to ensure an appropriate offer of work; while attending to the needs of those children still in school, the governors have been briefed on your approach and have been supportive. If a few people are still discontent with the work being sent home then let them use the formal stages of the complaints procedure, it is their right to do so but you should feel confident that your decisions and actions will, ultimately, be vindicated.

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How should we support pupils who have to stay at home?

Government guidance states that “Under normal circumstances, schools do not provide free school meals to eligible children who are not in school. During the coronavirus outbreak, we expect schools to continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home during term time.”

It goes on to confirm that “here pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals are self-isolating at home, schools should work with their school catering team or food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels. This will ensure that eligible pupils continue to be supported for the short period where they are unable to attend school.”

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Has NAHT developed advice on Ofsted visits in 2021?

Yes, you can read our guidance on inspections in 2021 here. However, a new piece of advice is being prepared to deal with the return to ‘normal’ inspections and we will link to this here when it’s available. 

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Staff management and support

Does NAHT have any advice on cover and supply teaching during covid-19?

During these unprecedented times it is important to review your policy on cover and pose questions about how you will manage should staff fall ill or have to self-isolate. 

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) states the following about cover: 

"52.7. Teachers should be required to provide cover in accordance with paragraph 50.7 only rarely, and only in circumstances that are not foreseeable (this does not apply to teachers who are employed wholly or mainly for the purpose of providing such cover)."

Both NASUWT and NEU refer to ‘rarely cover’ in their guidance and expect schools to stick rigidly to that principle. This applies to members of the leadership team as much as it does to any other teacher. 

The STPCD goes on to state the following about planning and preparation time: 

"52.5. All teachers who participate in the teaching of pupils are entitled to reasonable periods of Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time as part of the 1265 hours referred to in paragraph 51.5 or pro-rata equivalent (as the case may be) to enable the discharge of the professional responsibilities of teaching and assessment. PPA time must be provided in units of not less than half an hour during the school’s timetabled teaching week and must amount to not less than 10% of the teacher’s timetabled teaching time. A teacher must not be required to carry out any other duties during the teacher’s PPA time."

School budgets are being stretched to the limit (and beyond), and the government has said it would not refund additional costs incurred as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in the autumn term. So, what options do you have available to you? 

  1. Discuss the possible approaches for your school to take regarding cover. Acknowledge and discuss the very unusual times schools are working in and how that might mean some changes to usual practice. Reaffirm your commitment to staff continuing to get the release and non-contact time they are entitled to. Look for agreement and consensus from the staff who might be concerned. You will need to continue to aim to get supply staff in when an absence is known about in advance. You might ask for some flexibility from staff regarding PPA, guaranteeing it but asking that, if necessary, it might be moved to another time in the week to ensure the continuation of classes.
  2. Discuss with your leadership team (if you have one) the role they might play in cover arrangements, especially in ‘emergency’ situations. Discuss what management activities might have to be put on hold to ensure this can happen. Consider what risk factors might be associated with certain (perhaps vulnerable) staff covering across bubbles.
  3. Consider reaching out to your usual supply teachers/agencies to discuss in advance what their availability might be like and their ability to respond to short-notice requests.
  4. Proactively plan for what actions schools will take if individual members of staff or groups of staff are forced to self-isolate at short notice.
  5. Consider using the DfE and Crown Commercial Service's agency supply deal to secure supply staff as per the government’s advice. Consider the long-term placement of a supply teacher to preserve, as much as possible, the integrity of school bubbles. Is there merit in employing on a six-month contract a cover supervisor whose primary role is to cover lessons for absent colleagues but whose contract stipulates other (mainly administrative) roles, should cover not be necessary?
  6. Finally, if the possible five options explained above still aren’t enough, you should contact your local authority or MAT.

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Can members of staff be required to take the covid-19 vaccine and can I ask staff if they have taken it?

In the UK there is currently no ability under the present legislation to make covid-19 vaccination mandatory and it is our understanding that the UK government has no plans to legislate for a compulsory covid-19 vaccination programme.

There may be workplace-specific arguments to support vaccination as a precondition of work on health and safety grounds. For example, UK healthcare sector employers have a duty to ensure that healthcare workers, such as doctors and nursing staff, do not pose a risk of infection to patients and this includes an obligation to ensure such workers are vaccinated against common communicable infections. Employers should therefore anticipate a need to undertake specific risk assessments to evidence why a covid vaccination is required, despite all the other covid-secure arrangements that should already be in place. On that basis, if this is something that you are concerned about in your setting, please contact your employer to make them aware and ask them what steps, if any, they are taking in relation to the need to be vaccinated (once this has been offered) to work in your setting.   

Employers will of course need to take legal advice on this issue to see if they are able to require staff to take the vaccine as a pre-condition to work. They will need to explore, for example, amending contracts of employment to do this. It is a legally complex area and something that the employer will need to lead on with input from their legal teams. It is worth noting that employers may take a different approach to special and alternative provision settings than to mainstream settings. This could be based on a legal analysis that those settings have more high-risk individuals attending, and therefore the need to have vaccinated staff is greater than in mainstream schools and the legal basis for the requirement to be vaccinated is either a reasonable management instruction in this case or circumstances where the grounds to make a contractual change to require this are stronger.

Data protection issues will also need to be considered. Were an employer to require evidence of vaccination, this would give rise to significant data protection issues. This means that employers would have to carefully consider why they need evidence of vaccination and whether it is appropriate to enable schools in their area to operate. Doing so will require a data protection impact assessment, which must consider not only the reasons for requiring the data but also issues like how it will be held securely, who will have access and whether it is appropriate to hold more than a simple 'yes' or 'no'. This, therefore, adds another layer of complication in this already legally complex area.

In summary, this issue is something that will need to be considered by the employer; all NAHT members can do in relation to this issue is to raise the need for this with their employer and ask them to consider the approach they will take once vaccines are more widely available.

What about asking staff questions about their vaccination status? This is another very difficult area. Some useful background to this can be found here.

In summary, it’s likely that it is possible to collect this data, if done properly including identifying an appropriate legal basis and complying with the data protection law in relation to the way this is collected, for example the need to carry out a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) as this would be classed as special category data. The DPIA would need to consider why such data is needed and whether you have a sufficient legal basis for collecting it. 

However, this is an untested and complicated area of law and, as such, ripe for challenge. We would not advise school leaders to make this decision themselves. This decision should be one taken by the employer (the LA or trust).

Given the legal complexity involved here, and the potential risks if you get this wrong, we strongly recommend that members write to their LA or trust to outline the issue and ask that the LA or trust confirms the approach that should be taken in this area and also request that they undertake the process of collecting this information if deemed appropriate – in other words, we recommend that you remove yourself from the process of collecting this information if possible and that you get clear confirmation from your employer that this is something you should be considering at all.  

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Where staff are unvaccinated, would they need to isolate when vaccinated staff would not and what happens to their pay?

We recommend speaking to your HR team about this to understand the approach that should be taken for this group of staff and this should be communicated to staff to allow them to take steps to be vaccinated as soon as possible for the minority who have not already done so.

We recommend checking any insurance you have for staff absence to understand whether you remain covered for those staff who have to isolate due to their unvaccinated status.  We can confirm that NAHT Wellness and Protect Staff absence and protection policy will cover this type of absenteeism. You can find out more here. 

Clearly, if unvaccinated staff did not isolate when required they would have broken the law and could also face disciplinary action and referral to the Teaching Regulation Agency.  It is important to remember that while many restrictions are removed, some do remain and breaching them can be serious.

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I have been asked to review a risk assessment for a member of staff who is deemed clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable in light of the changing circumstance. What should I do?

The first thing to point out is that all risk assessments should ideally be dynamic documents that you review as the context or situation changes. Given the current situation, it would be good practice for all covid-19 related risk assessments to be kept under regular review. 

If a member of staff who is at particular risk feels that their personal circumstances or the wider context require a risk assessment to be reviewed, we would recommend that such a request is accommodated.

It is not possible to give very specific guidance on this because each school and individual will have a different set of circumstances that they will need to take into account. However, we recommend that schools reach out to their local health and safety teams within local authorities who should be able to provide templates and advice on how best to complete and review such risk assessments. Furthermore, it is important to remember that risk assessments are not designed to completely eradicate all risk but to help reduce and control these risks. 

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I have been approached by a pregnant member of staff who says that she should not be in school once she is 28 weeks pregnant. Is this the case? What should my approach be?

If you have a member of staff who is 28 weeks pregnant (or beyond) or they have an underlying health condition, it is important that you adopt a more precautionary approach as recommended in government guidance. Although they are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health, they have an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if they contract covid-19. 

It is advised that you consider the following steps:

  • Ensure that an individual risk assessment is in place for the member of staff and that regular reviews have been scheduled
  • Discuss the situation with the member of staff and inform them that you are referring them to Occupational Health    
  • Read the government guidance and note the more precautionary approach advised for a member of staff who is 28 weeks pregnant or who is pregnant with an underlying health condition
  • Review the working options available for the member of staff in the context of the government guidance
  • Liaise with your local authority/trust to advise on your current and planned actions in respect to the member of staff
  • Seek support from your HR provider on any documentation that may be required to confirm the position with the member of staff
  • Continue to liaise with the member of staff to manage their work and any support arrangements.

Further advice

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Where can I access support for my well-being?

Education Support Partnership's helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is completely confidential and provides you with support by telephone or online from specialist call handlers and counsellors who understand the demands of working in education. It provides the following:

•            emotional support and counselling

•            specialist information on work-life balance  

•            specialist information on eldercare, childcare and disabled care support

•            financial and legal information

•            management consultation to support those responsible for managing others

•            up to six sessions of telephone counselling

  • access to Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT) information on local services such as eldercare and childcare.

 Its experts assess each call individually and decide on the best course of action for each caller, whether counselling, CCBT or signposting the caller to additional services. Its telephone number is as follows: 0800 917 4055.

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What is the advice on staff travelling internationally in the holidays?

ASCL, LGA, NAHT and NEU issued Joint Guidance on International Travel on 27 May 2021 which can be found here.

Any views, opinions and guidance provided represent the views of NAHT and are for information purposes only. The information provided does not purport to be legal and/or professional advice or a definitive interpretation of any law for the purposes of specific individual circumstances. 

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First published 13 August 2021