Message to Members – 4 August 2020
Safety First and the Reopening of Schools
The SSTA position throughout the COVID-19 crisis has been one of safety first for all teachers and pupils. We would all like to return to normal schooling but the current situation is far from ‘normal’.
The SSTA view remains that schools can only reopen and operate safely if there are significant operational changes in place to ensure effective social distancing, strong hygiene routines linked to thorough cleansing practices, appropriate PPE available where required, and ongoing risk assessments in place to monitor operations.
The Government’s announcement on 30 July that all schools should return to full time education by 18 August was supported by the ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term in August 2020’
Although a very extensive document it does not adequately address a number of issues regarding staff safety in schools. The decision to treat schools differently to other areas, where strict social distancing guidelines are still in place, is particularly worrying. Schools and their staff must be protected regardless of the assumption that schools are less of a risk.
The SSTA intends to focus on the safety measures necessary for the reopening of schools. Schools should be prepared to open for pupils with a phased approach to allow opportunities to test and make alterations to the risk assessments
During the outbreak, those with underlying health conditions or those who are pregnant have been advised to follow stringent social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified. Some workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
All staff should have an individual risk assessment that includes their personal circumstances and the areas in which they are expected to work. Members who have an underlying health condition or are a part of a vulnerable group must be supported when returning to school. This may include remaining at home and asked to support remote learning.
It is the employer’s responsibility to protect employees from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect employees and others from coronavirus. This is called a COVID-19 risk assessment.
The employer must:
- identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
- think about who could be at risk
- decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
- act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Support for Staff
The return to school will be a worrying time for many teachers, and staff will need to be supported and reassured that their safety is paramount. SSTA expects all staff concerns about returning to school and requests for measures to ensure staff safety around the school and in teaching areas must be taken seriously and action taken.
A strict 2 metre physical distancing system must be enforced for all staff, and pupils must be instructed to adhere to staff physical distancing measures at all times.
SSTA recommends that all members have access to face coverings that meet the required standard and are provided by the employer. All members are advised to wear face coverings when in contact with other staff and pupils.
SSTA recommends that all in secondary schools pupils wear a face covering and should be mandatory for senior age pupils.
Staff who have underlying health conditions, or have members of their households with conditions, must ensure pupils in their care wear face coverings and adhere to strict cleaning regimes.
Schools should ensure the availability of protective plastic screens for those teachers who request them. In addition, all teaching areas that are unable to guarantee appropriate physical distancing between staff and pupils must have plastic screens installed.
It is essential that all schools have rigorous cleaning regimes that are planned, managed and delivered by appropriately trained staff. This cleaning must take place prior to a new class entering a teaching area.
Schools should ensure that no teaching area presents a risk to staff or pupils particularly small teaching areas. Schools should reduce class sizes and/or relocate to larger appropriate teaching areas.
Teacher Work Spaces and Staff Rooms
All teacher work spaces and staff rooms must have strict 2 metre physical distancing measures in place and allocated spaces for designated members of staff. There should not be any sharing of equipment or materials. Should there be no place of safety within the school, teachers should remove themselves from the building.
All ICT equipment and telephones must be allocated to individual staff and must not be shared with other colleagues. No ‘hot desking’. ICT equipment in classrooms must not be shared by teaching staff and classroom administration tasks need to be reviewed and alternative arrangements made.
As schools are not back to normal and pupil and staff safety is a priority, SSTA expects a high level of pupil discipline with a ‘zero tolerance’ approach in schools. Pupils refusing to follow safety measures cannot be accommodated in school and must be sent home.
Should schools be unable to maintain a safe environment for staff and pupils then measures should be introduced to reduce the number of pupils accommodated in the school building on particular days. Safety must be the priority and putting people at risk trying to maintain full time education would be irresponsible.