Schools & Academies in England, Member Update – 8th February 2021
Re: Special School Staff
We hope this finds you well.
You may be aware that sixty-five Local Councils/Authorities have recognised staff in special schools as frontline health and social care workers meaning they are eligible to be included in the priority group for Covid-19 vaccination. GMB London has now written to all Council Leaders asking them to consider adopting this approach. The medical vulnerabilities of children in special schools put them more at risk from Covid-19 and staff work in close proximity with these children to provide medical and personal care. In December 2020, 16.2% of support staff in special schools were absent for reasons linked to Covid-19 and this, coupled with the serious issue of children in special schools who have medical needs being at greater risk of infection makes a strong case for the vaccination of special school staff. As other councils have already recognised, special school staff provide day-to-day care for clinically vulnerable children, putting themselves and the children at increased risk of exposure to coronavirus and therefore benefit from being prioritised for the vaccine, and GMB London hopes that others will too.
An occupational priority vaccination programme is still being considered by Government and, should this approach be adopted, GMB will continue to make the case for school support staff to be included alongside teachers in this. As this lockdown has again shown, support staff are the backbone of schools and without them schools would not be able to open. It is the commitment of catering staff, site staff, cleaners and teaching assistants that has facilitated schools being open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers at this time .
Lateral Flow Tests
Many schools are now providing staff with Lateral Flow Tests to use weekly. It has been brought to our attention that some schools will not allow catering and cleaning staff to access these. GMB’s position is that regardless of whether a member is employed directly by the school or by a contractor, they are part of the school team and should be treated as such. DfE guidance states “Settings can offer others testing too, for example, school nurses or drivers or escorts, liaising as appropriate with both the individuals and their employers.” Lateral Flow Tests are voluntary but if the school you work in is offering LFT to staff then in line with the above, you can ask for a LFT too. GMB London will support any members who are experiencing difficulties with this.
Survey result and risk assessments
Thank you to all those who took part in our recent survey. We had a great response and this gives a clear picture of the experience and feelings of our members working in schools at this time. Our survey results reveal that many members have not seen revised Risk Assessments (RAs) which is of great concern. Our survey last September showed 88% of members had seen RAs but this had fallen sharply to only 41% in January and members contributing to risk RAs is worryingly low at only 17%. Risk Assessments are key in protecting your Health and Safety at work and important information about these can be found here. If you have not yet seen a Risk Assessment for your role and school, please ask your Head Teacher. If you need support with this please contact your local Branch or email@example.com.
Good ventilation in classrooms is paramount in reducing transmission of Covid-19 and 75% of members said their workspaces were adequately ventilated. Guidance has previously been issued on this and can be found at www.gmblondon.org.uk/workplace. GMB London has previously raised, and will continue to raise, the unfair teaching responsibilities being placed on members at this time. 73% of Teaching Assistants who responded reported they were now undertaking more teaching responsibilities than in the previous lockdown and more than half do not feel comfortable with the responsibility being placed on them. Coming together in your school, to address this as collective is the best way of approaching this issue and we can support you in raising a collective grievance.
Schools Memebers Q&As
On Tuesday 26th January, GMB London hosted an online meeting for members in schools and academies. The meeting was very well attended and over 100 questions were submitted throughout the meeting. Whilst many questions were answered on the evening, we have since provided answers to all questions asks and the Q&A document can be found here. The slides from the meeting are also available on the GMB London website www.gmblondon.org.uk/workplace.
Also at the meeting, over 60 members expressed an interest in becoming a Workplace Representative for their school. Our workplace representatives are the bedrock of GMB, as they are the voice of our members in workplaces throughout the Country ensuring issues are dealt with quickly and fairly. We know Covid-19 is currently the main issue in schools and if you initially would like to become the representative in your school to deal with this then it would be appreciated by GMB as well as your colleagues. Nobody understands and knows your school as well as you and although GMB is here to provide support, advice and help, it is your presence that gives a voice to support staff in your workplace and can make a real difference. If you know a colleague who is not in a Union, please share this email with them so they can see how GMB supports its members in schools and they can join online at www.gmb.org.uk/join-gmb.
Please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can be of any assistance.
Stay safe and take care
Lisa Bangs, GMB London Region Organiser — Schools and Academies
Keith Williams, GMB London Region Senior Organiser