Following the prime minister’s announcement on 31 October 2020 that schools are to remain open during a month-long national lockdown, NAHT immediately raised the issue of clinically vulnerable (CV) and clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) staff and pupils with the Department for Education (DfE). Please note, this document only addresses the specific issue of CV and CEV staff.
Clearly, this is a huge concern for our members, not only as individuals who may themselves fall into one of these categories but also as leaders and managers who will have staff who fall into these categories.
Schools are clearly very different to other workplaces, even those that are being asked to remain open during lockdown, and we have already seen that measures such as social distancing cannot be replicated in schools in the way they might be applied in many other workplaces.
As such, following the prime minister’s announcement, we asked for urgent clarification for the government’s position on CV and CEV staff in schools.
On 4 November 2020, the government published its guidance on this issue. It states the following:
“Those individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home and not to go into work. Individuals in this group will have been identified through a letter from the NHS or from their GP, and they may have been advised to shield in the past. Staff should talk to their employers about how they will be supported, including to work from home where possible, during the period of national restrictions.
"All other staff should continue to attend work, including those living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
"Staff … who are clinically vulnerable or have underlying health conditions but are not clinically extremely vulnerable, may continue to attend school in line with current guidance.”
This means that, according to the government’s current guidance, members of staff who fall under the CV category can still attend school during the lockdown period, so too can staff who live with someone in the CEV category.
However, as a union, we remain concerned about this position.
Clearly, there is an enormous challenge for school leaders here. We know that given the nature of the CV definition, it is likely to prove impossible for many schools to remain fully open if all CV staff remain at home during the national lockdown. At the same time, school leaders will be extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of their staff, especially those who are in the CV category and those who live with someone in the CEV category. They also have their own safety and well-being to consider.
We have made it clear to the government that we are concerned about this situation. We are calling on the government to do much more to demonstrate how and why it is safe for CV staff and those living with someone who is CEV to attend school and give clearer guidance to schools on how these staff can be protected. If the government is unable to do this, we believe it may be necessary for it to take a different approach.
In the meantime, our advice to members is to:
- Share the government’s latest guidance on CV and CEV people with all staff – in the time available, have an open and honest conversation with staff about the implications of this for the school and the challenges it presents to everyone involved
- Identify anyone who meets the criteria for CEV and discuss with them how they will be able to support learning from home during the lockdown period – there will then need to be a review of how their work in school might be covered during this period
- Review the individual risk assessments of any CV staff to see if there are any further measures that could be put into place to further reduce the risks they face. For example, further limiting any contact with parents before or after school at drop-off and collection time, tighter restrictions around interacting with other staff (ie in the staffroom, staff meetings, etc), additional use of face coverings in communal areas and tighter restrictions in terms of moving around school.
- Given the current restrictions, it might also make sense to look to limit the time staff are spending in school, eg cancelling any face-to-face, non-essential meetings or moving to virtual/remote meetings.
Ultimately, it will always remain the case that schools can only open as far as it is safe to do so. If schools find that they reach a point where a reduction in staffing numbers means they do not have the capacity to keep all classes open safely (ie if there is no staff available), school leaders may have no alternative but to review whether they need to implement a short-term partial closure. If you feel you might be approaching this position, we strongly advise that you discuss this with your governing body and also your local authority/MAT before taking any action. It is important to demonstrate that these conversations have taken place.
In the meantime, NAHT will continue to challenge the government on its current position and keep members up-to-date with any new developments. Should you require specific advice and support, you can contact our advice team on 0300 30 30 333 (select option one).
First published 04 November 2020