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The full opening of schools: members' questions

Should my 'bubbles' be the size of a class or a year group?

Schools have the flexibility to make a decision that works in their context, based on their risk assessments. While the overarching approach is that smaller groups are preferable (particularly where social distancing is impossible), if that means that schools are unable to deliver a full curriculum and operate effectively, they are free to increase the bubble to the size of a whole year group.

Small schools and special schools may decide to have bubbles that have more than one year group in where they already operate on that basis, ie classes with multiple year groups. 

Do children in the early years have to sit in rows facing the front?

No. The Department for Education's (DfE's) guidance suggests that pupil sat facing the front is one measure schools could take; it is not mandatory. 

The idea is that by not having pupils facing each other directly (ie facing the front instead), it reduces the risk of spreading the virus via respiratory droplets.

However, if schools decide that such an approach would prevent them from delivering the EYFS, then this is not a mandatory approach. As always, leaders should carry out risk assessments to determine the measures they will put in place to reduce risks in their schools and settings.

This also applies to pupils in older year groups. 

Do I have to keep the 'bubbles' the same in breakfast/after-school club as during the school day?

The short answer to this question is no. 

The DfE has acknowledged that it may not be logistically possible to keep the groups or bubbles the same in wrap-around care as they are in school.

Obviously, if it is possible, then it would be advisable to keep the groups the same.

Where it is not (as is likely to be the case for most schools), schools are advised to keep groups in breakfast and after-school clubs as small and consistent as possible. 

It would be advisable to write to parents to inform them of the approach the school is taking to wrap-around care.

Am I able to close early on a Friday afternoon from September for deep cleaning/whole-school PPA? 

NAHT has developed an advice document on 'reducing the school week', which you can read here.

We are a very small school. Can we have a whole-school bubble?

The DfE has not set a specific upper limit on the number of pupils within a bubble. The general principle is that schools should keep bubbles as small and consistent as they can. If you can split the school into smaller bubble sizes, this is recommended, even if it is only for part of the time.

However, if making bubbles too small has a significantly negative impact on your ability to operate your school or run a full and balanced curriculum, the bubbles can be larger than the size of a class. 

Ultimately, these are decisions that should be reflected in a school’s risk assessment. 

If we have a positive case in a bubble, do other bubbles with siblings also need to test and isolate?

If pupils are in the hall together for lunch and one of those has a positive test for covid-19, does everyone else have to isolate?

If two separate bubbles are outside for playtime together and there is a confirmed case in one group, do both groups have to isolate, including all staff that were out on duty?

The answer to these three questions is ‘not necessarily’. The DfE's guidance states that if someone in school tests positive, they should contact the local health protection team. The health protection team will carry out a rapid risk assessment to confirm who has been in close contact with the person during the period that they were infectious and ensure they are asked to self-isolate.

The health protection team will work with schools in this situation to guide them through the actions they need to take. Based on the advice from the health protection team, schools must send home those people who have been in close contact with the person who tested positive, advising them to self-isolate for 14 days since they were last in close contact with that person when they were infectious. 

Schools should take the advice of the local health protection teams when deciding who should be asked to isolate.

Can staff still deliver 1:1 interventions with pupils?

Yes, they can. 

Staff who are working with pupils across different bubbles are advised to take additional precautions. For example, remaining 1m+ apart if possible and avoiding close face-to-face contact.

What will the recently announced Ofsted 'conversations' with schools involve?

On 6 July 2020, Her Majesty's chief inspector, Amanda Spielman announced the following: "Our routine inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term, with a plan to resume in January. In the autumn term, Ofsted will be carrying out 'visits' to schools and colleges, not inspections. 

"Our visits will look at how schools and colleges are getting pupils back up to speed after so long at home. And we will help them through collaborative conversations, without passing judgement… 

"We'll use our visits to listen to school leaders' experiences and plans and to provide constructive challenge. The visits will not be graded. We'll publish the outcomes of our discussions with leaders in a short letter so that parents can understand what steps are being taken to help children back into full-time education. And we will use what we learn from our visits to report on the picture across England."

NAHT will now be seeking discussions with Ofsted to understand further what these visits will entail.

When will 'full' Ofsted inspections return?

Currently, Ofsted has indicated that it expects to return to 'full' inspections in the spring term. However, it has also said that this decision will remain 'under review'.

Can governors visit schools in person again from September?

Yes, the DfE has confirmed that the new guidance for September does not prevent governors from going into schools. However, the DfE recommends that where visits can happen outside of school hours, they should do so. Depending on a school’s risk assessment, schools may choose to continue to host governor meetings virtually.

When considering how to organise visits from governors, you will need to consider your school’s risk assessment, which should include how the school will protect the health and safety of any visitors alongside staff and pupils. The Department’s guidance outlines how schools should consider managing visitors to the site; this includes ensuring site guidance on physical distancing and hygiene is explained to visitors on or before arrival, and maintaining a record of all visitors.  

What about safety measures in special schools, including the use of PPE?

You can find the government's advice on PPE in schools here.

The government has also published SEND risk assessment guidance.

The government's guidance suggests that: "The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others." 

NAHT is also aware that a number of local authorities have been supplying schools with additional PPE during this period, and we see no reason for this to now stop.

NAHT is aware of the concerns members have about the DfE's and PHE's guidance on PPE, particularly in special schools. We are also aware of the concerns other unions have expressed. We are actively raising these concerns with the government. 

In the meantime, we are linking to a useful document that has been produced by Birmingham City Council and provides some information about PPE in schools. On this page, you will also find an example of a PPE policy that a special school has put in place.

The TES has also produced this video explaining how to wear PPE properly in an education setting. 

Our risk assessments show we need PPE. How can I obtain essential PPE if my school's usual suppliers are unable to assist?

The government's advice states: "Education and childcare settings and providers should use their local supply chains to obtain PPE.

"If education or childcare settings cannot obtain the PPE they need, they should approach their local authority (LA). Local authorities should support them to access local PPE markets and available stock locally, including through coordinating the redistribution of available supplies between settings according to priority needs.

"If the local authority is not able to meet the PPE needs of education and childcare providers, the LA should approach their nearest local resilience forum (LRF), which will allocate stock if it is available once the needs of other vital services locally have been met. If neither the LA nor LRF is able to respond to an education or childcare setting's unmet urgent need for PPE, the setting will need to make their own judgement in line with their risk assessment as to whether it is safe to continue to operate."

If, after exhausting all of the above advice from the government, your school continues to require essential PPE supplies urgently, NAHT has been made aware of an organisation that may be able to help.

SOS Supplies is a team of volunteers who have been supporting the NHS, charities, schools and other key workers in need of urgent PPE.

It matches organisations in need with UK PPE suppliers who have items currently in stock and ready to ship.

Each of the UK suppliers used on the lists has been checked by SOS Supplies for their reasonable prices (as they are supporting charities, NHS, etc.), appropriate certification and their links to any relevant government bodies.

Schools need to register their specific PPE needs on the website.

SOS Supplies then provides regular email updates showing which companies can provide PPE, their minimum order levels and prices – it is currently providing these on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It intends to continue this service throughout the covid-19 crisis.

Schools place their orders directly with the suppliers.

NAHT recommends that schools make direct contact with the chosen supplier and undertake due diligence (eg to ensure the specific PPE needs can be met) as you would with any purchase order.

Does NAHT have specific advice on issues relating to members with protected characteristics and other vulnerabilities who may be at increased risk?

As is the case in 'normal circumstances', employers will need to be mindful of the particular needs of different groups of workers or individuals. Any planning for the wider reopening of schools, such as designing staffing structures or development of any risk assessments, should take account of the particular circumstances of those with different protected characteristics or who appear to be in particular at-risk groups.

NAHT's advice is that schools should continue to assess individual members of staff who may be at increased covid-19 risk and put reasonable adjustments in place, especially for those staff with serious medical conditions and caring responsibilities.

NAHT is aware of and concerned by the particular impact covid-19 appears to be having on members of the BAME community. NAHT welcomes the scientific review of covid-19 deaths about BAME frontline staff, which is currently being undertaken by Public Health England, and hopes this will help to provide greater insight into the issue. 

In the meantime, we are working with colleagues in other unions and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to explore this issue, and it's implications for different sectors. We are also raising this issue as a matter of urgent priority in our conversations with the government. 

We believe that the NHS England's guidance below, while not directly applicable to schools, is a useful starting point for members:

"Organisations should continue to assess staff who may be at increased risk and take account of reasonable adjustments, individual health concerns and caring responsibilities. In the light of emerging evidence that BAME people are disproportionately affected by covid-19, employers should also risk-assess such staff and make appropriate deployment arrangements on a precautionary basis."

The organisation BAMEed has also produced some handy resources for schools, including guidance on risk assessments. 

We will continue to update our position based on our work with other unions and the government. 

Am I required to undertake an equality impact assessment alongside any risk assessments?

An equality impact assessment (EIA) is an analysis of a proposed organisational policy, or a change to an existing one, which assesses whether the policy has a disparate impact on persons with protected characteristics.

While equality impact assessments are not legally required for schools in England, they are considered an established and credible tool for demonstrating due regard to the public sector equality duty (PSED), which schools are required to adhere to by law. Essentially, this means that schools are required to assess the impact their proposed policies have on equality, but there is not a specified way in which to do so. 

Given it is likely that there have been a number of changes to schools' risk assessments in recent months and in light of evidence that suggests certain groups with protected characteristics are at particular risk, NAHT encourages schools in England to consider the use of equality impact assessments or some other similar form of written record when developing their risk assessments; this is to help them demonstrate that there has been active consideration of equality duties and they have considered the appropriate, relevant questions.

Wales and Northern Ireland

For schools in Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a statutory duty to complete equality impact assessments. Therefore schools must have due regard to this when making any changes to policies, including risk assessments.

You can find further advice and guidance on applicability and requirements of the Equality Act 2010 from the Department for Education here, and in NAHT's advice and guidance here. Schools may also find the following guidance a useful template.

For Northern Ireland schools, there is specific guidance from the NI Equality Commission here.

The impact of the coronavirus on employees' sick pay

NAHT encourages schools to take a common sense and flexible approach, given the unprecedented nature of the current circumstances. However, school leaders should also be aware of the provisions set out in the 'Burgundy Book', section four, sick pay scheme, 'contact with infectious diseases', paragraphs 10.1 and 10.3 in particular. (The Burgundy Book, typically held by HR departments, sets out the conditions of service for school teachers and leaders in England and Wales).

"10.1 When the approved medical practitioner attests that there is evidence to show a reasonable probability that an absence was due to an infectious or contagious illness contracted directly in the course of the teacher's employment, full pay shall be allowed for such period of absence as may be authorised by the approved medical practitioner as being due to the illness, and such absence shall not be reckoned against the teacher's entitlement to sick leave under paragraph 2 above, though such absences are reckonable for entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay".

"10.3 A teacher residing in a house in which some other person is suffering from an infectious disease, shall at once notify the employer and the teacher shall, if required, take such precautions as may be prescribed, provided that if in the opinion of the approved medical practitioner it is considered inadvisable, notwithstanding such precautions, for such teacher to attend duty, full pay shall be allowed during any enforced absence from duty, such pay being sick pay for the purpose of paragraphs 3 to 7.5 above. This provision will also apply where, in the opinion of an approved medical practitioner, it is inadvisable for a teacher to attend duty for precautionary reasons due to infectious disease in the workplace. The period of the absence under this paragraph shall not be reckoned against the teacher's entitlement to sick leave under paragraph 2 above, though such absences are reckonable for entitlements to Statutory Sick Pay."

Where can I access support for my well-being?

Education Support Partnership's helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is completely confidential and provides you with support by telephone or online from specialist call handlers and counsellors who understand the demands of working in education. It provides the following:

  • emotional support and counselling
  • specialist information on work-life balance   
  • specialist information on eldercare, childcare and disabled care support
  • financial and legal information
  • management consultation to support those responsible for managing others
  • up to six sessions of telephone counselling
  • access to Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT)
  • information on local services such as eldercare and childcare.

Its experts assess each call individually and decide on the best course of action for each caller, whether counselling, CCBT or signposting the caller to additional services.

Its telephone number is as follows: 0800 917 4055.

What will happen about performance data for this academic year?

On 23 March, the DfE announced that it would not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

Schools and colleges will not be held to account based on exams and assessment data from summer 2020. That data will not be used by others, such as Ofsted and local authorities, to hold schools and colleges to account.

The DfE has published more detail about what this means for how school and college accountability will operate for 2019 to 2020. You can read its update here.

What will the government's reimbursement scheme for schools cover?

The government has published updated guidance (24 June 2020) on the scheme here.

When making a claim under the exceptional costs funding, are school reserves taken into account?

Yes. The DfE amended its existing guidance on exceptional costs funding:

"Schools are not eligible to make a claim against this fund if they expect to add to their existing historic surpluses in their current financial year (September 2019 to August 2020 for academies and April 2020 to March 2021 for maintained schools). This means schools cannot claim if they began their current financial year with an accumulated historic surplus and expect to increase that surplus this year and thereby finish the year with a higher level of reserves than they started.

"Schools are eligible for reimbursement where the additional costs associated with coronavirus (covid-19) would:

  • result in a school having to use historic surpluses
  • increase the size of a historic deficit
  • prevent the planned repayment of a historic deficit."
Can schools claim for loss of income (for example, premises rental) through the exceptional cost guidance?

No. NAHT continues to press the DfE to recognise and reimburse these costs. Notwithstanding this, on 24 June, the DfE amended the existing guidance on exceptional costs funding, stating:

"We recognise that during this period of partial closure many publicly funded schools are not able to secure income from private sources that they normally would, for example letting facilities, providing wrap-around childcare or catering services. Lost self-generated income is not covered by this grant."

Can schools claim for exceptional costs associated with extending the opening of schools?

No. NAHT continues to press the DfE to recognise and reimburse these costs. Notwithstanding this, on 24 June, the DfE amended the existing guidance on exceptional costs funding, stating:

"Schools are not eligible to make claims for any additional costs associated with more pupils returning to school that are not covered by these categories. We have published guidance on the actions schools can take to open for more pupils in a way that minimises the risks of transmission. We anticipate that schools will typically be able to implement the measures set out in our guidance (including increases to routine cleaning) within their existing resources."

What should I do about risk assessment ‘checklists’ being provided by other unions?

A number of unions have worked together and published a joint checklist for their union reps ahead of a full reopening in September.

In many cases, schools will have already consulted with staff and unions and written risk assessments ahead of September. Where this is the case, there is no requirement to revisit these. However, risk assessments remain dynamic and should be updated if and when changes in the situation require them to do so. Furthermore, school leaders will want to remain engaged with staff and union representatives and should be open to a process of continual improvement based on ongoing feedback and discussion. 

School leaders may find many of the questions posed in this checklist useful when reviewing their risk assessments. 

The document is not intended to replace a school’s risk assessment, and there is no expectation that school leaders should ‘complete’ the checklist themselves. 

Schools leaders have a legal duty to consult with staff and union representatives when carrying out risk assessments. However, this does not remove a leader’s managerial responsibility, and risk assessments do not need to be formally ‘signed-off’ by other unions/staff.

What is NAHT’s position on staff wearing face coverings?

Public Health England’s (PHE’s) position is that it “does not (based on current evidence) recommend the use of face coverings in schools. This evidence will be kept under review. They are not required in schools as pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups, and because misuse may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission.” 

Inadvertent misuse would be a particular issue when it comes to younger pupils, for example, who may find it very difficult not to touch their face covering for a whole day and to wear it correctly. 

For school staff, physical distancing between other adults wherever possible, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are recommended as effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus. PHE has, therefore, suggested that there is no need for staff to routinely use additional personal protective equipment (PPE) or face coverings when undertaking regular educational activities in classroom/school settings - the majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work. 

However, NAHT’s position is that an inflexible blanket ban on staff wearing face coverings is unlikely to be helpful as settings, provision in schools and required tasks vary from setting to setting, even within a single local authority.

Most importantly, all schools have a duty of care to their staff, and this extends to their mental health and well-being. 

If any school staff member feels personally reassured and more confident in returning to fully a reopened school setting by being allowed to wear appropriate face coverings, school leaders still retain the authority and flexibility within existing government guidance to allow this to happen. Schools will also need to take into consideration the ability of the staff member to undertake their work with children and young people effectively, especially pupils with hearing or communication impairments.

It will also be important to remind those members of staff about how to use face coverings safely.

How often should children wash their hands?

The DfE and PHE’s guidance states that “schools must ensure that pupils clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive at school, when they return from breaks, when they change rooms, and before and after eating.”

Washing hands with soap and water when changing rooms may pose a logistical challenge, and in this situation, hand sanitiser may be an easier option. 

What about staff who are shielding/clinically vulnerable/clinically extremely vulnerable?

The government has stated that “shielding measures will be paused from 1 August 2020, with the exception of areas where local lockdown means that shielding will continue. It is therefore appropriate for teachers and other school staff to return to their workplace setting. Accordingly, we expect that staff who need to will attend school.” This means that in the vast majority of cases, staff who were previously shielding will be able to return to school. However, leaders will want to have individual conversations with these members of staff and may consider the use of individual risk assessments. 

The guidance also states “we advise that those who are clinically extremely vulnerable can return to school in September 2020 provided their school has implemented the system of controls outlined in this document, in line with the school’s workplace risk assessment. In all respects, the clinically extremely vulnerable should now follow the same guidance as the clinically vulnerable population, taking particular care to practise frequent, thorough hand washing and cleaning of frequently touched areas in their home and/or workspace.”

Is there any advice about regular cleaning? 

The government has published specific advice about cleaning in non-healthcare settings, and this covers schools. You can find that guidance here

What happens if a member of staff goes on holiday late in the summer holiday and has to quarantine when they return?

Based on the government’s current guidelines, there could be a scenario where a member of staff goes on holiday late in the summer holidays and is then unable to return to school because they are expected to self-isolate for two weeks. 

It is important to point out that the government’s guidelines on this could change, and school leaders will want to review the latest guidelines by the government when making decisions on this issue. 

It is also important to acknowledge that, given the current situation, it is unlikely that large numbers of people will be going on foreign summer holidays as planned.

However, NAHT has produced a technical document in partnership with LGA and ASCL that outlines the legal position and the options available to schools. 

School leaders will want to start by highlighting the current guidelines and establishing whether there are any staff who think they may be affected. This will enable leaders to have conversations with those people about the likely implications. 

First published 28 July 2020