Important information re Covid outbreak in schools
The latest information from DfE and Public Health England (PHE) highlights serious issues about the extent of Covid-19 outbreaks in Schools. PHE reported that, in week ending 20th September, 42% of Covid-19 outbreaks were in Schools and Colleges - an increase on the previous week where 21% of outbreaks were in Schools and Colleges. DfE reported that on 24th September 84% of secondary schools were fully open and this was down from 92% the previous week. These figures confirm what many feared would happen when schools fully reopened with large bubble sizes, difficulties with social distancing, limited use of PPE and large numbers of both pupils and staff.
Although GMB has written to the DfE asking for a review of guidance issued to schools, we want to make you aware of what you can reasonably expect from your school if there have been outbreaks or cases.
- If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, clinically vulnerable or live with someone who falls into these categories, you should ask for a review of your risk assessment to determine whether additional control measures can be put in place to offer you extra protection e.g. working from home- all or part of the time, PPE if there is a lack of social distancing, only working in one bubble.
- If your school has had to send large numbers of pupils/staff home because of large class/bubble sizes, you can ask for the risk assessment to be reviewed in light of what has happened. Smaller class/bubble sizes and limiting the crossover between these groups will reduce the risk of transmission. Risk assessments should regularly review risks and the control measures in place to ensure they are as accurate and effective as possible.
- We know from our recent survey that social distancing is not happening, between adults, in 60% of schools. Social distancing - the Governments 'space' message - is the most important measure for reducing the rate of transmission. If social distancing cannot happen in a workplace this must be addressed in the risk assessment and measures put in place to minimise or mitigate the risk. Schools should not be different to any other workplace and if you cannot socially distance from your colleagues you can request PPE to minimise this risk to you. Schools have generally only been issuing PPE for personal care and first aid, but it should certainly not be limited to this.
- If extra cleaning measures are not being carried out, or cleaning duties are falling to those not employed as cleaners, raise this with the Head Teacher. Hygiene and cleaning are critical and need to be carried out professionally and thoroughly. Whilst GMB acknowledges that Head Teachers may have budget considerations in whether they can use extra cleaning, this does not mean it is okay for cleaning duties to fall to non-cleaning staff.
The Government states all workplaces must be 'Covid Secure' and details the 5 steps Employers must take to ensure this, but Schools do not have to be 'Covid Secure' in the same way as other workplaces. This does not mean though that you should not be protected. Whether you work in a school or not, your employer has to comply with all Health and Safety Legislation and must take all reasonable measures to protect you.
You do not have to address safety issues on your own and you could discuss your concerns with other GMB members and approach the Head Teacher collectively. Large class/bubble sizes, PPE and lack of social distancing affect everyone and raising these issues collectively makes your position stronger. If you have colleagues who are not currently in a Union, they can join GMB online at www.gmb.org.uk/join-gmb - together we are stronger and together we can make a difference. If you do not currently have a GMB workplace representative and are interested in becoming the representative for your school please contact us at the schools' team email address.
Attached to this email are a couple of example letters you could amend and send to your Head Teacher. One is for clinically extremely vulnerable/clinically vulnerable members and the other is a collective approach to raising health and safety issues. If your Head Teacher does not address your concerns, please contact your local Branch, Regional Organiser or firstname.lastname@example.org for help and support.
Everyone has the right to be safe and protected at work and you should not feel uncomfortable in raising this issue with your school. You are not on your own, GMB is on your side and we are here for you - to provide advice and support and we are working hard to ensure your health and safety are protected.
Take care and stay safe
With best wishes
Lisa Bangs, GMB London Region Organiser — Schools and Academies
Keith Williams, GMB London Region Senior Organiser
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