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back to school toolkit - employment and HR briefing

Right now, there are a lot of feelings about the prospect of opening schools. Staff are feeling anxious, as are parents. Social distancing has been well adopted by the British public and therefore it is understandable why people are hesitant about returning to school.

Timing is therefore key. Whilst the Government have indicated that schools could re-open from 1 June, it is up to school leaders to decide when their school is safe to re-open and this could be later than 1 June. Parents are also deciding if they want to send their children back to school.

If there is a feeling from staff and parents that the return is ‘rushed’ then it is likely to damage the trust and confidence in school leadership to get the plans for return right.

CIPD research found that 4 in 10 people are anxious about returning to work and there are concerns people could be forced back. Right now, organisations in the UK need to take care of their people and safeguard their health and wellbeing.

Right now, leaders need to do their best to take a consultative approach to any changes or measures that may be required and communicate openly and frequently. Now is not the time to retreat to an office to plan in isolation. In order to build the trust of staff, they need to know that leaders have their best interests at heart and the best way to demonstrate this is to involve them in the planning.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

Please click here for an Employee FAQ document that you can edit and use with your own staff.

Employment and HR FAQ

We have brought together a number of FAQs which will be of use to schools in the planning and preparations of re-opening schools:

Communication and engagement with the workforce about the steps taken to make the workplace “COVID-19 Secure” will be critical to make sure that employees have all the information available to them about the protections in place and any new rules and procedures that they will need to adhere to. Whether an employee is reasonable in their belief about the safety of their workplace will be assessed based upon the information known by the employee at the time.

Staff are going to be worried about travel to and from school and they will be wanting to hear from school leaders how their physical and mental health is being supported. Some degree of flexible working is likely to be needed in the re-opening especially as staff may have children to care for who are unable to return to school. You need to consider what work can continue to be done remotely so that you have alternative work options available for staff who are unable to come back into the workplace, e.g. pregnant women and those who have been advised to shield.

Please read more in the Health & Safety Briefing on tips to support staff wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here are some practical things that you could do:

  • The feedback loop - When open, it’s vital that leaders and line managers are visible and present. It’s so important to keep communicating with staff and checking in with them at morning briefing and at a de-brief at the end of the day. You will all be operating with new procedures and it will be important that staff have the ability to share in the successes and also feedback the concerns. Remember to carry out a feedback loop: Plan, Do, Check, Act. Your staff briefings will be a great way to carry out the ‘Check’ step in the feedback loop to see if there is anything that you need to ‘Act’ on in regard to the plans to deal with COVID-19 whilst school is open.

  • Share expert advice with staff - Work closely with your health and safety people and occupational health providers. Communicate the practical measures that you are taking as a result of taking advice regularly with staff as this will reassure them that their health, safety and wellbeing is a number one priority. Take photos of the changes that you have made to school. Share documents. Do visual tours of school to explain how things will work.

    You will be required to consult with your employees and trade union reps on your health and safety plans and a useful starting point will be to liaise with your H&S trade union rep (if you have one) to assist you in this process.

    Develop clear and simple procedures regarding the important measures that you are taking. Think about different learning styles, when developing communications for each important message. E.g., visual posters and messaging around school, verbal communications in staff briefings and written instructions on emails, notice boards and intranets. Remember to display your COVID-19 Secure poster that confirms the required steps have been taken in re-opening.

  • Involve staff in the planning as much as you can. Utilise Teams and Zoom to explain to staff what has been considered so far and ask them for their thoughts. Be open, consultative and transparent.

  • Wellbeing support - If you’re not doing it already, consider introducing wellbeing pulse surveys done weekly. These pulse surveys will give you a barometer of how willing staff are going to be with the transition of moving back to school. Remind staff of services that you have procured or you have access to that will help staff with their worries and concerns about returning to school. EAP services, school counselling, occupational health, Mental Health First Aid, etc. will all be useful. There are lots of resources available to staff through charities and the NHS, it would be a good idea to build a dossier of support that staff could use should they feel the need for it.

  • Regular 1:1s - Make it a priority for line managers to have a 1:1 with every staff member. Managers need to have a sensitive and open discussion with every member of staff and discuss concerns, adjustments and/or ongoing support to facilitate an effective return to the workplace. This doesn’t come easy to all managers, so help them with this. Provide examples. Scenario plan tricky situations and how to handle them. Remind line managers of the wellbeing services that they can signpost their staff to.

  • Share experiences and celebrate successes - Encourage staff to share their experiences of returning to school. It will be good for those still at home to hear about their colleagues’ experiences in school.

Compile a spreadsheet that tells you the situation of each employee. Consider if you can call on those who have retired, who have left school to go into a different career and those who may be furloughed. How could you widen the workforce to include others, similar in some ways to the way the NHS has done with volunteers.

Here are some practical considerations:

  • The Government’s planning guide sets out that in addition to considering overall staff numbers and ratios, including teaching and support staff, schools should have available a head or deputy, at least one person with relevant first aid training, at least one DSL with up to date training, a SENCO or someone who could take on this role, a caretaker or cleaning staff and if necessary, at least one member of office staff in school.
  • You need to identify who can return and who does not believe they will be able to return. In line with the Guidance, which suggests an audit of staff to find out who will be available to be in school from 1 June, we advise that you ask staff to indicate if there is any reason that they are unable to return, for example because they are clinically extremely vulnerable and so are shielding. You can then determine whether you have sufficient numbers of staff for the children you anticipate will be returning.
  • Staff should be asked to update you if their situation changes, so that you have a clear picture of your staff availability.
  • The Government Guidance states that if there are any shortages of teachers, teaching assistants can be allocated to lead a group, working under the direction of a teacher or to seek support from your Trust and/or local authority to provide cover from other schools on a weekly (rather than daily, basis). The same teacher(s) and other staff should be assigned to each group of pupils, and, as far as possible, should stay the same, save for secondary and college settings where there will need to be some subject specialist rotation of staff.
  • You will need to consider how you will juggle the staffing for school opening and the continued support for pupils who cannot attend school or who are expected to remain at home.

If staff are usually on leave during a school closure period then they will ordinarily be on leave. You should seek volunteers to work during the school closure period to help with preparations. It is likely that school will continue to be open for key worker children.

If you are unable to gather enough volunteers to carry out this work over the closure period then you could consider the following options:

  • You could direct leaders to undertake reasonable work which could include being at school to assist with the preparations of school re-opening.
  • You could direct staff who have an annualised contract (or banked hours contract) to work the additional time in the school closure period and reduce the hours worked in term time.
  • You could direct staff who have a contract that is term time plus an additional number of days or weeks to work those additional days or weeks in the school closure period.
  • You could decide that not having enough resource to assist with the planning and preparations over this closure period that immediately precedes the 1 June 2020 could lead to a delay for school re-opening past 1 June 2020.

Staff who are shielding are advised not to attend work. If they are able to, they should continue to work from home.

There is no requirement to ask for a copy of the letter confirming that a person must shield, but there is nothing to prevent you from doing so to help you confirm that they will not be required to return to school which may assist you with planning. If you do ask for a copy, you’re likely to only need to know that they’ve been advised to shield, and not why they’ve been advised to – so you could let staff know that they can redact the letter if they wish to, to remove the specific details about their health issue. Think about whether you need to retain a copy of the letter, in which case it must be retained securely and only for so long as necessary, or whether it can instead be seen by an appropriate member of staff and a note kept to say that it has been seen. Obtaining this information is likely to give you information about an employee’s health which you may not have previously had, for example you may become aware that an employee has a disability for the first time, and so you would need to ensure that this is considered from an ongoing employment perspective.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

Clinically vulnerable staff (i.e. those who are over 70, have underlying health conditions, are obese or are pregnant) should work from home wherever possible, but if they cannot then they should be offered the safest available on-site roles and strictly follow social distancing measures (although the Guidance says that the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for such distancing if they prefer to do so). If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, schools must carefully assess and discuss with them whether it involves an acceptable level of risk.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

Some pregnant employees, who have significant heart problems are required to shield, as they fall within the clinically extremely vulnerable category. They should not be in work.

The remainder of pregnant staff are clinically vulnerable and so the guidance above in relation to clinically vulnerable staff applies. However, if the nature of their job means they cannot work from home and there is no safe on-site role, or there is an on-site role but they reasonably refuse it, they can be suspended on full pay.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

If a member of staff lives with someone who is shielding, they should only attend their education setting if stringent social distancing can be adhered to. If stringent social distancing cannot be adhered to, they should be supported to work from home.

A member of staff who lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, can attend school.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

The Government has said that they are asking nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders, to begin welcoming back all children. Critical workers will be able to access education or childcare to allow them to attend work. Employees should contact their local authority to discuss what arrangements can be put in place and they can expect the local authority to work with providers to put arrangements in place. This should allow your employee to source alternative childcare to return to work.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

  • Agency workers who are unable to work due to coronavirus (for whatever reason)?

    If an agency worker has been in post for 12 or more weeks, they are entitled to “the same basic working and employment conditions” they would have been entitled to had they been hired directly and so should receive full pay.

    According to the Cabinet Office’s Guidance if an agency worker has been in post for less than 12 weeks, and is on a “live assignment”, they should be paid 80% of their pay up to a cap of £2,500 (gross) until the end of their contract (if the contract was going to be terminated regardless of coronavirus). Pay can be backdated to 1 March 2020. For any full week of absence, the clock stops for the purposes of counting the 12-week qualifying period. If an agency worker would have been kept on if it weren’t for the coronavirus, then they are entitled to 80% of their pay up to the £2,500 cap for at least 3 months (although please note that this limit reflects the initial length of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has now been extended). If an agency worker is not on a “live assignment”, there is no obligation to pay them.

  • Casual workers who are unable to work due to coronavirus (for whatever reason)?

    There is no legal obligation to pay casual workers for work that has not been undertaken. However, schools may wish to consider paying them for reputational reasons (given that schools are continuing to receive their annual budgets) and / or for the purpose of maintaining good relations with the workers. It is up to schools to choose how they pay them, and will depend on the work they do, for example, in respect of exam invigilators it would make sense to pay them the same sums as paid last year for the equivalent time period, whilst for regular casual workers, it may be more appropriate to pay them their average earnings over the previous 12 weeks.

This is an important part of your planning process and will be a key part of your communication strategy. Once you have plans and opening arrangements in place, the planning guide suggests holding an online staff meeting before 1 June to talk staff through those arrangements. As part of this, you will need to inform staff about all the health and safety measures that will be put in place, detailing the outcome of the risk assessment and setting out how you are ensuring appropriate hygiene. Staff will need to be instructed on how to manage their pupils at this time in terms of the social distancing and other measures. There should also be a clear method of reporting any concerns they have during the course of the day. Any instructions should be continually reviewed, updated and communicated to staff.

Be clear about your workload expectations and pay attention to appropriate work/life balance. Managing workloads is still a key management task that will need to continue and is a feature of your responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of all employees at work.

Consider any additional staff training required to deal with school re-opening generally and any new processes or procedures that you have put in place. For example, hygiene requirements or new behaviour management techniques. The planning guide sets out that the behaviour policy will need to be updated to reflect any new rules and routines along with the use of sanctions and rewards, and that these will need to be communicated to staff, pupils and parents. Example rules, guidance and posters are given as annexes to the planning guide.

Please click here for a helpful flowchart to help you make decisions about whether a member of staff should return to school or not. If the answer is that they are not to return to school the flowchart gives you alternative options that you could consider.

The Government advice is clear that schools should minimise contact and mixing, through the operation of small, consistent groups with a maximum size of 15 that stay away from other groups. Therefore, a rota would not be appropriate as this would not minimise contact and mixing. Once you have ascertained which staff and pupils are returning, you will be able to allocate staff to a particular group on the basis of either one teacher per group or 2 teachers sharing the week for existing job shares. If there are not enough teachers for each small group, the Guidance suggests asking suitably experienced teaching assistants who are willing to lead a group under the direction of a teacher, or bringing in supply teachers, teachers on loan from other schools, or using SLT time where appropriate, taking into account workload and senior leadership time.

If you face this situation, the first thing to do is to speak to the employee to find out why. They may have concerns that through an explanation of what you are doing to support the return to work, may change their view. Through your communication strategy you should be able to explain what you have done and what is in place to minimise risks. It may be an issue around not wanting to use public transport if the employee is unable to drive. Here you can consider whether flexing working hours to allow the employee to attend at a later time could allow them to attend work due to avoiding peak travel times.

Ultimately if staff refuse to attend work without good reason, then this is potentially a disciplinary matter, but we would urge extreme caution in taking this approach particularly if they have said that their refusal relates to Health & Safety concerns.

It could be that you can arrange for them to work at home if there is work available or you could agree to a period of unpaid leave.

As the discussions between the Government and unions have not yet been resolved, it may well be that we receive specific guidance on this issue at some later date.

The other issue that you may encounter is the possibility of feelings of staff who are in school who may resent those who are not. It’s important that school leaders foster an inclusive working environment (that spans home and school), and line managers are sensitive to any underlying tensions and are confident about nipping potential conflict in the bud. Handling difficult conversations doesn’t come easy to all managers, so help them with this. Provide examples. Scenario plan tricky situations and how to handle them. Remind line managers of the wellbeing services that they can signpost their staff to if appropriate.

Working from home for many workers and employees will continue. However, this situation is different for schools where the intention is to phase the re-opening of schools from 1 June. There will be some employees who are unable to return to school at the point of re-opening e.g., they are clinically extremely vulnerable or live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable and stringent social distancing cannot be adhered to. In this situation they would be asked to work from home and you would need to consider what work they can do at home which is likely to include supporting your remote learning offer for pupils are not to return to school yet. However, some support staff may continue to work from home as it is not necessary for them to be on site and you can continue to hold meetings by remote means with those individuals.

Our understanding is that the rules remain the same for PPA at this time.

If your teachers are employed on the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, (STPCD), then the headteacher can direct teachers to undertake different teaching work. This is in line with the following provision from STPCD:

51.5 A teacher employed full-time must be available to perform such duties at such times and such places as may be specified by the headteacher (or, where the teacher is not assigned to any one school, by the employer or the headteacher of any school in which the teacher may be required to work) for 1265 hours, those hours to be allocated reasonably throughout those days in the school year on which the teacher is required to be available for work.

On this basis, you have the flexibility to move teachers to cover different classes. Of course, you would need to be satisfied that the teacher had the capability to cover the class. Under the circumstances and due to the requirement to deliver learning in a different way, we would say that the provisions that restrict cover to rarely cover, would not apply at this time. If teachers refuse to teach as directed then this is potentially a breach of contract.

They should not attend work if they have symptoms of coronavirus. The Government has said that staff and pupils in all settings will be eligible for testing if they become ill with coronavirus symptoms, as will members of their households. A negative test will enable staff to get back to work when they are well enough to do so. A positive test will ensure rapid action to protect staff in their setting.

You cannot force staff to undergo testing, but as all staff (and children) are entitled to a test if they display coronavirus symptoms, they should be encouraged to get tested in such cases. Schools can use the employer referral portal to refer staff for testing if they or a member(s) of their household display coronavirus symptoms. Staff should be instructed to inform schools as soon as they, or any member of their household, starts displaying coronavirus symptoms. Employees can only refer themselves for testing if they are symptomatic. The Government does not advocate temperature testing as a reliable method for identifying coronavirus.

If anyone displays coronavirus systems, they should be sent home, advised to follow the COVID-19: guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection guidance, self-isolate for 7 days and are encouraged to apply to be tested (and their household members should self-isolate for 14 days).

You will need to brief those staff who may need to support a child or member of staff who becomes ill. The Government advise that if a child is awaiting collection, they should be moved, if possible, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door, depending on the age of the child and with appropriate adult supervision if required. Ideally, a window should be opened for ventilation. If it is not possible to isolate them, move them to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If they need to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should use a separate bathroom if possible. The bathroom should be cleaned and disinfected using standard cleaning products before being used by anyone else.

PPE should be worn by staff caring for the child while they await collection if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained (such as for a very young child or a child with complex needs).

In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

If other cases are detected within the cohort or in the wider setting, Public Health England’s local health protection teams will conduct a rapid investigation and will advise schools on the most appropriate action to take.

Other children or staff do not need to self-isolate unless they start displaying symptoms or the child or staff member subsequently tests positive. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell. Cleaning the affected area with normal household disinfectant after someone with symptoms has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.

If the child or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class or group should be sent home and self-isolate for 14 days. The other household members of that wider class or group do not need to self-isolate unless the child or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.

You can request staff to work different days to those contracted but if they have commitments or are not agreeable then they will only be required to work to their normal pattern.

You are perfectly entitled to discuss school matters with your staff and should continue to do so; this is normal and good management practice. You should continue to seek to have a dialogue with your local trade union reps on school matters, as you normally would, including return to work arrangements. At this stage we are not clear on how this situation will develop and it may well be that at a national level, matters will be resolved and a solution agreed for all schools. Take advice if this continues to be unresolved.

In the absence of any guidance from the DfE, our advice is to continue with the normal process looking at the information available in the same way you would for employees on leave such as long-term absence and maternity. You may need to revise objectives but that is perfectly reasonable under the circumstances where exams have been disrupted.

If you need to change the start date of a new employee, the approach you will take will depend on whether there is a binding agreement (that is, offer and acceptance) in place or not.

If the offer has not yet become binding, one option is to withdraw the first offer and make a new offer with a different start date.

If the offer has become binding, subject to agreement with the new employee, you would need to make a variation to the contract. You can then use our template postponement of start date letter to communicate this with the individual.

A verbal offer can count – so it will depend on whether a start date was mentioned or not when this was made on how you proceed.

You should be mindful that putting a start date back is likely to be off-putting to applicants as it will likely leave them in a difficult situation.

Keep your risk assessments under review as well as the procedures you have put in place.

We suggest you have regular communication with staff on issues that have arisen, and in line with the Guidance, ensuring that senior members of staff are present around school for staff to raise any issues with or ask for additional support. Regular briefings will improve communication and buy-in, and allow staff to feedback on the arrangements in place.