TEACHING union chiefs have demanded education bosses provide maps of bins and extra staff to clean paint brushes and glue sticks before returning to school.
The National Education Union, GMB, Unison and Unite have produced at least 169 questions for the Department for Education to answer and has urged its 450,000 members not to return to work until they are satisfied with each response.
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Among the health and safety concerns are guidance on whether it is safe to mark books, ensuring every classroom is supplied with tissues and whether families should provide their own water bottles.
The union has also told its members online tuition of children who do not return to school should be kept to a minimum ‘if they feel uncomfortable’ after returning to the classroom.
Referring to the checklist, the document states: “The starting point for every component of the checklist is that it is checked NO until you and your colleagues determine it can be checked YES.
“School staff will not be protected by social distancing rules nor, in most cases, will they be offered any personal protective equipment. If satisfactory answers are not forthcoming in all areas, then it will not be feasible or safe to extend opening until concerns are met.”
Critics have said the 22-page document could scupper plans for kids in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school from June 1.
A growing list of Labour-led councils have urged headteachers to ignore requests to reopen schools including Brighton and Hove, Slough, Teesside, Stockport, Bury, Liverpool, Wirral and Hartlepool.
Solihull in the West Midlands today became the first Tory council to rebel against the plans.
Meanwhile, other unions including the Association of School and College Leaders and National Association of Head Teachers have supported plans for teachers to go back to work.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is among those to back calls for teachers to return to the classroom, saying many disadvantaged students are falling behind as schools remain closed.
He told BBC Newsnight: “If you look at all the best evidence, and my Institute has assembled a lot of the different data on this, especially for younger children, the risks of transmission are actually quite low.
“Private schools will have been educating their children throughout this.
“Parts of the state system will have been. But then there are some children who will have been having no education at all.”
Ministers will make their final decision on whether to gradually reopen schools as planned on June 1 when they assess the lockdown next Thursday.
Kevin Courtney, of the NEU, has defended the check list.
He said: “The checklist is detailed because there are so many considerations to take into account when dealing with a school situation, particularly as we are looking at our youngest children going back first.
“Parents would expect nothing less.”
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said unions should be “as concerned about the risk to many thousands of vulnerable children” of not being educated.
Evidence shows kids are not as vulnerable to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, a meeting of 22 education ministers from across the European Union concluded the reopening of schools had not had any impact on the spread of coronavirus where carried out already.
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The virus can live on paper for varying lengths of time, but government advice is to wash hands rather than avoid books.
Professor Matthew Snape, from Oxford University, said “only a very small number of children” get sick from Covid-19.
He said: “Also, it seems the children who get Covid-19 do not become ‘super-spreaders’, unlike what we see in viruses such as influenza.”
Questions raised by teaching unions
- Will soap and, preferably warm, water be available at all times, with systems in place to ensure continuity of supply of soap and sanitiser
- How will the school ensure that children and staff arriving can safely queue up, at 2-metre distance from each other, to access the sanitiser on arrival?
- Will staffing levels (and PPE) allow for enough staff to support those pupils in special schools to do this who are unable to do it independently?
- Are lidded bins available in every classroom?
- Unless operated by pedal, the lids will need to be regularly sanitised throughout the day. How will this happen?
- Who will empty them during the day?
- What arrangements are in place to keep every classroom supplied with tissues
- Will staff and children wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap on arrival, before departure and regularly throughout the day, including before and after every break and lunchtime
- How will this be supervised and monitored?
- Will pupils be regularly reminded to catch coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow?
- Will appropriate PPE be provided in schools where pupils are unable, or less able to catch their sneezes and coughs?
- Will hand dryers be disconnected and replaced with paper towels and bins?
- Will drinking fountains be taken out of use?
- Will only rooms with windows that can be kept open be used?
- Will doors be kept open where possible to aid ventilation?
- Will separate risk assessments take place in classes where leaving a door open will expose children to additional risks (eg runners)?
- Will air conditioning systems not be used unless it can be confirmed that there is no additional risk?
- Will all areas of the premises be thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis with particular focus on surfaces that are touched by multiple people such as photocopiers, door handles, table/counter tops, computers including mouse and keyboard, light switches telephones, chairs, bannisters, shared learning resources or toys, specialist equipment for SEND pupils, toilets and toilet handles, sinks, taps and other areas touched regularly, with additional cleaning during the day as necessary?
- Will each classroom be provided with gloves and disinfectant spray in case a pupil coughs or sneezes on a piece of equipment?
- Is there capacity amongst the cleaning staff to meet these requirements?
- Will a one-way system be introduced?
- If not, why is it not needed?
- What arrangements are proposed for safe movement on staircases?
- What arrangements are in place for use of lifts – can social distancing be achieved if a staff member travels in the lift with a child?
- How will staff and children be made aware of the new arrangements, with particular reference to very young children and those with special needs?
- Who will monitor that the systems are being complied with?
- Will a member of staff be on duty at all times?
- Are other measures needed in corridors, for example floor markings or removal of furniture or students walking in single file without holding hands?
- Is there provision for the movement of pupils around the school who may need additional assistance from an adult?
- How will pupils and staff keep 2-metres apart, even with these arrangements?
- What arrangements are proposed around access to pupil toilets to ensure no overcrowding during lesson and break times?
- What signage will be displayed to support these new systems?
- Given that classes will be split, how in practical terms can resources be split between two classrooms?
- Will additional resources be needed to ensure that both classes have what they need?
- How will young children be taught (reception especially and nursery) without physical resources?
- Are you satisfied with the proposed rota arrangements?
- Have you been given an assurance that there will always be a head/deputy, first aider, Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), SENCO, caretaker and sufficient cleaning staff on duty at all times?
- Are you satisfied that consistency can be ensured to minimise staff movement between classes?
- Has it been confirmed that sufficient cleaning staff will be engaged to allow for the enhanced cleaning levels required?
- Have you been given an assurance that non cleaning staff will not be expected to undertake cleaning work?
- Has the site been measured to ascertain what the maximum capacity is and proportion of pupils that can be accommodated to allow safe distancing? (This needs to adopt a cautious approach in relation to staff availability, taking into account those who must work from home because they are vulnerable or may need to self-isolate and likely future levels of absence.)
- Is it clear to all staff and parents that only healthy staff and pupils who are not exhibiting symptoms, and who do not need to self-isolate, may attend school?
- Is it clear that pregnant staff and those with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable, or who live with or care for vulnerable or shielding household members or those over age of 70 are permitted to continue to work from home?
- The DfE advises that if ‘vulnerable’ as opposed to ‘extremely vulnerable’ staff cannot work from home ‘they should be offered the safest available on-site roles’, also that a member of staff who lives with someone who is vulnerable can attend work. The joint unions disagree, both should be allowed to work from home.
- Have the risks to Black staff been assessed when planning rotas? Evidence from the Office for National Statistics shows a greater impact of Covid-19 on Black communities with a disproportionate number of deaths being recorded. The DfE Planning Guide does not address this issue.
- Will parents be advised that the school cannot guarantee to be able to keep their children socially distant, with support for parents to assess the risks to themselves and other family members of sending their child to school?
- What arrangements are in place for safe induction of new staff during this period?
- Have catering staff been involved in discussions about how meals will be served and are there sufficient catering and lunchtime supervision staff to ensure that children can safely eat their lunch?
- Is there a procedure to close the school or college at short notice if staffing levels fall to levels where safety cannot be assured?
- Will the school close if any of these key staff are unavailable?
- Given that social distancing is expected in all other areas of society, it is unacceptable that the Government expects schools to open without the protections that are recommended for other environments, eg shops and public transport. What is proposed to address this issue?
- Where there is a risk of airborne contamination, because social distancing cannot easily be adhered to, particularly where staff are at risk from spitting or biting and where pupils are unable to catch or control coughs and sneezes, the joint unions believe that PPE must be provided and training given on its use and disposal. Will this happen?
- Will PPE be available for emergency situations, for example when a pupil develops symptoms during the school day and is awaiting collection?
- What assurances can be given about secure arrangements for sourcing PPE?
- Can confirmation be given that, if any member of staff wishes to wear a face covering, they will not be prevented from doing so?
- How many pupils can each individual classroom safely accommodate to ensure that they and staff remain 2-metres apart on entry and departure and during the lesson?
- This needs to take account of the additional staff numbers in classes with SEND pupils who have individual adult support. How many people altogether will be in a classroom should be the measure?
- What areas are safe to use for different purposes than usual to aid social distancing?
- Is the school proposing to have 15 children per class? The joint unions position is that staff cannot be expected to safely supervise 15 children and ensure that they socially distance.
- Has account been taken of the fact that some staff, in particular support staff, normally work at close proximity to individual pupils and how this work can continue in a safe manner?
- Will enough staff be available at the beginning of the day (and able to socially distance) to assist children in coming into school where needed (younger children/ children with SEND/anxiety etc)?
- How will break times operate to ensure social distancing?
- What will happen in wet weather at break and lunchtimes?
- What arrangements are in place to ensure that meals can be safely prepared and served?
- How will other unauthorised visitors be kept away?
- Have families been told to provide water bottles?
- How will breaks for staff operate?
- Have assemblies and the coming together of other large groups, both staff and pupils, been suspended?
- Is there a system in place for isolating children who develop symptoms during the day, while they wait to be picked up?
- Will all staff be sent home as soon as they report symptoms during the school day and will arrangements be in place to provide cover as necessary?
- Have off site visits been suspended?
- What are the plans for ensuring that staff can travel safely to and from school?
- For those who have no car and cannot walk or cycle, how can they safely travel to school, when use of public transport is discouraged? (note: car sharing other than between members of the same household should not happen). A safe travel plan for each individual member of staff need to be agreed.
- Where school transport operates under normal circumstances, how will this operate at this time, ensuring social distancing and hygiene arrangements?
- Will individual risk assessments and discussion with parents/carers have taken place and been agreed by the date when extended opening begins, to ensure that any provision required by a child in order to attend school is safely in place?
- Where LAs cannot, despite ‘best endeavours’ provide the support listed in an EHC plan can pupil safety in school be guaranteed? Eg behaviour support.
- Will there be clear guidelines on entry to school about the procedures in place for essential visitors from external agencies visiting pupils at the school (eg educational psychologists, child and adult mental health services (CAMHS), behavioural support, advisory teachers etc)
- Will there be social distancing measures in place for visitors from external support agencies visiting pupils at school?
- Will visitors working closely with pupils be offered PPE where necessary?
- If LAs cannot provide additional trauma support for pupils can another provider be quality assured and risk assessed in time for when the school beings to open more widely?
- Will guidance and training be provided for staff to ensure they understand, and can enforce, the new routines and support pupils in understanding them and are familiar with revised physical arrangements, well in advance on when wider opening begins?
- Will individual pupil risk assessments be in place for all pupils who exhibit anti-social behaviour, eg biting, before a decision is made about admitting them under the new arrangements?
- Will compassionate and proportionate behaviour policies that protect health and safety, while also supporting pupils who may exhibit problematic behaviours as a response to trauma they may have experienced during lockdown, be in place by the time wider opening begins?
- It will not be safe to mark children’s books during this period. Will clear instruction be given that no marking should take place and the books should not be taken to and from home/school?
- Will staff be told to wash their hands before and after handling pupils’ books?
- Will library books be regularly sanitised?
- Some teaching assistants will be used to working in very close proximity to individual pupils, so how can this work continue in a safe manner?
- Have parents been informed about new arrangements for drop off and pick up routines?
- Have other regular visitors to the school, eg parent volunteers, been informed that they should not attend at this time?
- Do essential contractors, including those who deliver food, understand how they may access the premises and what precautions are expected of them while they are on site?
- Are catering staff aware of new safe working practices?
- Will senior staff be visibly present around school during the day?
- What arrangements will be put in place to ensure regular staff feedback on arrangements?
- What guidance will be given to staff on how to support children?
- What pastoral support services will be available?
- Does the school recognise its duties under health and safety law to protect the mental as well as physical health of staff?
- What plans are in place to ensure that this duty is applied?
- What counselling services are available for staff and pupils who may need support?
- How will the school monitor workload at this time to ensure a reasonable work/life balance for staff?
- The DfE toolkit recommends that children should be taught not to touch their faces – how can this realistically be taught or monitored?
- It is also recommended that resources for painting, sticking and cutting be washed before and after use – what additional staff resources will be allocated to these tasks, given that these materials are likely to be in constant use?
- How will staff ensure that children do not share these resources?
- How will staff be supported to teach outside their usual year group/key stage responsibility?
- Has time been given for staff to work together to agree shared priorities for children’s learning?
- Has time been identified for staff to work together to prepare teaching, particularly to adjust their teaching of practical lessons and of play-based curriculum without shared physical resources?
- Has support been given to teaching assistants to prepare for supporting pupils?
- How will staff maintain continuity of learning and support as pupils begin to return, but have additional periods of time away?
- What arrangements will be in place for year groups not eligible to attend?
- What arrangements will be in place for pupils with underlying health conditions who cannot attend when the rest of their year group may be in school?
- How will the senior leadership team (SLT) ensure that any change in opening arrangements does not increase workload for staff whether working at home or at school?
- In special schools, given the level of adult support required for pupils, what is a safe number of people to have in a classroom and how is this determined?
- In special schools, where social distancing will be impossible, what measures are in place to protect staff and pupils?
- To what extent can parents of SEND children be reassured that their child will still be working with, or have access to, their key worker/learning support assistant?
- Is the school prepared to consider attendance on a rotational basis in order to reduce class sizes?
- Can an assurance be given that teaching assistants, unless it is part of their normal role such as for higher level teaching assistant, will not be expected to lead classes?
- Will supply teachers be brought in as necessary?
- Will senior leaders be available to cover classes if needed?
- Will parents be told not to bring their children to school if there is a shortage of staff for a particular class?
- How does the school propose to ensure social distancing at the start and end of each school day?
- If it is planned to undertake temperature checks, how will this be managed safely in terms of social distancing between the child and member of staff and to avoid queues building up?
- What measures are in place to protect staff and pupils who may at times need to use physical interventions (in alternative provision (AP) and mainstream) to protect pupils from harming themselves or others? (They will clearly not be able to socially distance when doing this)
- In AP what measures are in place to ensure that enough appropriately trained staff are on site to support pupils with behavioural issues to keep safe?
- How and what PPE will be used in this situation?
- Is it practical to stagger arrival times, if so how?
- How will parents be informed and the system monitored?
- Is there sufficient staffing to monitor the safe arrival and departure of children at varying times?
- How will overcrowding at the school gates or in the playground be prevented?
- What will be expected of parents/carers in terms of social distancing and how will they be informed of arrangements?
- Will parents/carers be instructed that they may not enter the premises other than in an emergency situation?
- Will there be clear guidelines on entry to school about the procedures in place for essential visitors to the school?
- Will there be social distancing measures in place for visitors to the school?
- Will visitors working closely with pupils be offered PPE where necessary?
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