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The guidance for schools has been released by government

Planning guide for primary schools: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-schools-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-primary-schools

UNISON branch guidance is reproduced here https://plymouthinunison.org.uk/covid-19-latest-schools-advice-and-guidance/

It includes a checklist for assessing the risk assessments you may get from your school and a model letter to send to your head

Advice for members on engagement 

The message to members is – if employers ask members about re-opening on 1st June they are to attend any meetings but maintain that there are safety concerns that need addressing.

These will include;

  • The absence of a national test and trace scheme. Can your school deal with this locally?
  • How will vulnerable staff be protected?
  • Lack of resources for enhanced school cleaning and PPE
  • Does your school have autonomy to close schools where new covid-19 cases appear on campus?

We are aware that some employers are pressuring individuals to start the planning process. The model letters for members includes the following statement they can use in responding to their employer:

“I understand that the school has a duty to plan and my issue is not with the school rather with the government rushing ahead with an unsafe increase in pupil numbers from 1 June. Therefore I would like it to be formally noted that my involvement in any meetings and discussions will be on the basis of a sharing of information only, and not my agreement to an unsafe reopening from 1 June. I would further request that you enter into collective discussion with my union on the measures that need to be taken for a safe increase in pupil numbers, as stated by the DfE. I call on the school not to put pupils and staff at risk by an unsafe increase in numbers from 1 June.”

Download the model letter for members

What if I don’t feel my workplace is safe?

UNISON believes that our members should never be in a situation where they might endanger themselves and others in the course of doing jobs.

Putting you in that situation is potentially a breach of health and safety law and may spread coronavirus to people in high-risk groups.

Before you return to the classroom/start dealing with new cohorts of children make sure you have had sight of the risk assessment and instructions for safe systems of working so you know if what is happening in practice is what was envisaged.

Raise concerns with school managers either directly or via your UNISON rep.

As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous working environment which cannot quickly be solved, every employee has the right to leave, or refuse to attend their place of work (or take other appropriate steps) without suffering detriment (section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

The context of a situation will be key on whether refusing to return to work or any other steps are appropriate.  This means that an employee cannot automatically refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason. It applies in circumstances where they reasonably believe there is a risk of being exposed to serious and imminent danger. For example; if somebody apparently suffering with Covid19 symptoms is attending the workplace, or if the social distancing measures cannot be applied in practice.

If you feel you are being put at risk it is crucial to get advice and discuss the situation with your Plymouth in UNISON representative. Contact your branch or if needed you can seek advice from our regional office or legal team.