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Members' questions following the government's guidance issued on 4 November 2020

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Click on the links below to read members' questions on these topics. 


Can I still run any extracurricular clubs, including sports clubs, exam groups, study groups, etc.?

NAHT has been in contact with the DfE, and it has now confirmed that the following activities are still able to go ahead during this period: 

  • Any activities that take place during school hours, so any lunch or break time club is permitted, as long as it follows the government’s broader schools’ guidance
  • Clubs that enable parents to work, seek work, or to undertake education or training, and for the purposes of respite care (ie for vulnerable children). This includes activities/clubs related to PE/sport, music, dance and drama
  • Any school activities that are focused on education or ‘training’, including 1:1 or group tuition, catch-up clubs, revision clubs, etc.
  • School Breakfast clubs (including those whose primary purpose is providing food for vulnerable children). 

 

Furthermore, the DfE has since updated its advice on sports clubs to confirm: 

  • Schools should continue to provide extracurricular sport as long as they can do so in a way which i) maintains the integrity of schools’ covid-19 protocols, such as their approach to bubbles, staffing and social distancing and ii) is subject to appropriate risk assessment
  • Where the guidance refers to supporting parents to work, there is no additional need for schools to prove that extracurricular clubs are helping parents to work or seek work
  • Extracurricular clubs should not take place if they are bringing together groups of young people who would not otherwise be spending time together. Competition between different schools should not take place, in line with the wider restrictions on grassroots sport. 

Ultimately, schools will have to make decisions based on their unique circumstances and risk assessments. 

When making such decisions, school leaders also have a duty of care to their staff, and they will need to consider that carefully when deciding if extracurricular provision can continue. 

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Should I now be reviewing my risk assessments? 

Regarding risk assessments, the latest guidance states: “Schools should continue to undertake risk assessments and implement the system of controls set out in this guidance.”

In practice, risk assessments should always be dynamic documents and subject to regular and ongoing review. We recommend that risk assessments are updated if circumstances change. The increasing rate of transmission across the country and the government’s new guidance can be seen to represent a change in circumstances. However, this does not mean that risk assessments need to be completely rewritten from scratch. Existing risk assessments can be updated and amended. For example, schools will want to review control measures such as face coverings in light of the government’s new guidance. 

We recommend that schools prioritise reviewing the risk assessments of clinically extremely vulnerable staff in light of the new guidance, and then the risk assessments of vulnerable staff. If you have specific questions about risk assessments, we recommend you contact your health and safety team at the local authority or within your trust. 

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If a member of staff who is clinically extremely vulnerable tells me that they still want to come into school, can they?

The short answer to this question is that they potentially can, and the DfE has confirmed that to us, stating that the guidance for CEV people is only ‘advisory’. However, this is a very complex and sensitive area where you will need to take great care. Schools have a legal obligation to protect their employees and others, including children, from harm, and they should continue to assess health and safety risks and consider how to meet equalities duties in the usual way.

 

The law firm Winckworth Sherwood has produced what we think is very sensible and useful guidance on this issue, which you can access here.

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I am either clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable myself, and I am concerned about attending school. What should I do?

It is very hard for us to give blanket advice on this topic, given that every person will have a unique situation. If you find yourself in that position, we recommend you contact our advice team on 0300 30 30 333 (and select option one).

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Can I claim for the additional costs associated with covering for staff who have to shield? 

Currently, there is no national scheme to allow schools to do this. NAHT is strongly and repeatedly challenging that position. We believe schools should be fully reimbursed for their covid-related costs.

In the meantime, if you believe your budget is becoming unsustainable due to the additional costs related to covering clinically extremely vulnerable staff, we recommend that you contact either your LA or trust as a matter of urgency to explain the position and see if there is any scope for financial support. 

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I have a member of staff who was previously told to shield but is unsure if they should be shielding now. What should I do?

We recommend that the member of staff speaks with their GP or medical specialist urgently to clarify this. 

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Why don’t staff in primary schools have to wear face coverings?

This is a question we have put to the DfE, and it is one that only the government can answer. The current guidance states:

“In primary schools and education settings teaching year six and below, there is no change to the existing position. It is not mandatory for staff and visitors to wear face coverings. In situations where social distancing between adults in settings is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas), settings have the discretion to recommend the use of face coverings for adults on site, for both staff and visitors.”

Given that in many, if not most, primary schools social distancing in communal spaces is very difficult to achieve, we know that many schools have been reviewing their policy in this area.

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Do pupils in secondary special schools need to wear face coverings?

The latest guidance does not explicitly address this question. However, many pupils in special schools would likely be exempt from wearing face coverings. You can find the exemption list here. Schools will want to review this on a case by case basis.

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If secondary students are outside in year group bubbles at break and lunchtime, do they have to wear face coverings? 

The DfE has confirmed that they do not. The DfE has confirmed that the guidance relates only to indoor communal areas.

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Will Ofsted continue its visits in November?

Ofsted has now confirmed that its autumn term ‘visits’ will take place remotely during the national lockdown period. 

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Will the Health and Safety Executive continue its school visits in November?  

The HSE has told us that it plans to continue these visits. 

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NAHT has said that this does not come into force until Monday 9 November 2020. Where does it say that?

The government’s guidance states: “We would expect schools to ensure any changes required in light of national restrictions are in place as soon as practically possible, and by Monday 9 November at the latest.”

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What should an educational or children’s social care setting do in the exceptional circumstance that they have good reason to question a self-isolation notification that will have a major impact on the running of the setting?

In the exceptional circumstance that an educational setting or individual member of staff has received a self-isolation notification from NHS Test & Trace that will have a major impact on the running of the setting, and they have good reason to believe it does not take account of the full range of protective measures in place within their setting, they may seek further advice from PHE advice service by calling the DfE helpline and pressing 1. Where necessary, the advice service will escalate the issue to the local Health Protection Team.

Please note that the reference to notifications is with regards to Test & Trace notifications to isolate issued through email, text or phone rather than the NHS App.

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Do we assume only those with letters are CEV or do we accept the previous classification? 

Every one who is required to shield should be receiving a letter by the end of the week beginning 9 November 2020. In general, individuals should assume they are still on the shielded patient list unless they have received a letter from their doctor telling them they have been removed.

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What does this mean for staff who are pregnant?

The DfE has told us the following: 

“Pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ category. Clinically vulnerable staff can continue to attend school. While in school, they should follow the sector-specific measures in guidance to minimise the risks of transmission. This includes taking particular care to observe good hand and respiratory hygiene, minimising contact and maintaining social distancing in line with the provisions set out in section six of the ‘prevention’ section of the guidance. This provides that ideally, adults should maintain a two-metre distance from others, and where this is not possible, avoid close face-to-face contact and minimise time spent within one metre of others. While the risk of transmission between young children and adults is likely to be low, adults should continue to take care to socially distance from other adults including older children and adolescents.”

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What should I do when I'm asked to be on-call all weekend to field calls from NHS Track & Trace, Public Health England, etc. regarding positive covid-19 cases? 

We know that school leaders are being asked to be on-call seven days a week to respond to reports of positive covid-19 cases. Given that many of our members work in small schools with equally small leadership teams, this is placing an enormous burden on them. Being on-call seven days a week is not sustainable, and we are deeply concerned about the impact this has on school leaders' well-being.  

Equally, school leaders want to do everything in their power to keep their schools and communities as safe as possible, as they have already repeatedly shown throughout the pandemic. They also know that only receiving such vital information first thing on a Monday morning could put them in an impossible situation and actually increase the stress they are under. 

With that in mind, and given the difficult nature of this situation, it is essential that local authorities and local Health Protection teams work with school leaders to identify sustainable solutions.  

One approach to consider is as follows: 

Schools and school leaders set up an auto-reply on their emails over the weekend. This auto-reply should state that school email addresses are not routinely checked throughout a Saturday and Sunday and that if the person is contacting them to report a confirmed case of covid-19, then they should phone the school on a dedicated out-of-hours phone number. In reality, this is likely to be a school mobile (we recommend that school leaders should not provide their personal mobile number). This would mean that school leaders do not have to keep checking their emails throughout the weekend and would know that a phone call to that number means there is a confirmed case that they need to be made aware of. If that situation does occur, and school leaders are told that pupils and staff need to self-isolate, they could simply send a pre-prepared text or email template through their usual communication system. This would simply inform parents or staff that they need to remain at home next week due to a reported case and that more information will follow on Monday morning. 

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Can union-appointed health and safety representatives inspect the school and if so what notice should they give?

Union-appointed health and safety representatives can inspect the workplace. Normally, they have to give reasonable notice in writing when they intend to carry out a formal inspection of the workplace and have not inspected it in the previous three months. If there is a substantial change in conditions of work or HSE publishes new information on hazards, the representatives are entitled to carry out inspections before three months have elapsed, or if it is by agreement.

However, the requirement for reasonable notice doesn’t apply where there has been an incidence of a notifiable disease such as covid.  In this situation, health and safety representatives also have the right to carry out inspections and only need to give notice where it is reasonably practicable to do so.  This means that the usual notice requirements don’t apply.  Given this, we would expect that any refusal to allow an inspection should only be done for good reason as it’s likely that the person refusing to allow the inspection would need to be able to justify this.  For example, it may not be appropriate for the representative to carry out an inspection when pupils are on-site and covid control systems are in operation or, for example, after the premises have been thoroughly cleaned ready for the next day. 

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Can I bring the end of the autumn term forward and start the Christmas holidays earlier this year?

We know that some schools have been considering an earlier finish to the autumn term. In most cases, this is to ensure that there is a school-level or local  ‘circuit breaker’ so that there is a reduced risk of staff and families having to self-isolate over the Christmas period.

NAHT has been raising this question with the DfE on members’ behalf and explaining why some schools are considering this.

On 23.11.20, the prime minister stated that the government’s policy is that schools should not close early for the Christmas holidays. NAHT is also aware that where some Trusts and schools have decided to do this, they are coming under pressure to reconsider the decision by Regional Schools Commissioners.  

Members should be aware that such a decision is likely to be challenged by RSCs / DfE.

Where conversations are taking place about altering term dates at a local level, we would strongly recommend that these are carried out in close partnership with LAs and/or trusts.

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Are we able to take inset days at the end of the autumn term?

Ordinarily, inset days are set at the discretion of individual schools in consultation with their governing body. It is important that parents and carers are given sufficient notice of any inset days. 

Where inset days have already been scheduled for the end of the autumn term, there should be no issue in taking these as planned.

We are also aware that some schools are considering changing inset day dates to have some at the end of the autumn term. Should a school be considering doing this, we strongly advise that this is discussed with the local authority in the case of maintained schools, or the trust in the case of academies. This should help to protect leaders and schools should those decisions be challenged.  

The Coronavirus Act 2020 gives the secretary of state for education significant powers when it comes to temporarily removing or relaxing statutory provisions, and while it is not clear at this stage whether they are likely to be invoked for this purpose, it is important that school leaders have discussions with the LA or trust. We would expect LAs and trusts to seek their own advice to inform their position on such issues. 

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First published 26 November 2020