Staff and pupil health and wellbeing FAQs

We are reviewing all FAQs on a regular basis – adding new questions as they arise, updating answers to existing questions as information changes, and removing obsolete questions. 

If you have a question which is not covered here, and you are an ASCL member, please email coronavirus@ascl.org.uk, and we will try to find an answer and share it here. 

These FAQs are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or professional advice. They represent ASCL’s views, but you rely on them at your own risk. For specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances, please contact your employer’s HR service or legal advisers.
 

On 22 June, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health updated its guidance on children (up to the age of 18) who are currently shielding. The extract below breaks those currently shielding into three groups, and the guidance gives much more detail of who is in each of the groups. This provides further clarity and may aid your planning for September.
 
The original shielded patients list was intended to identify people with particular conditions which put them at highest clinical risk of severe morbidity or mortality from COVID-19, based on our understanding of the disease at the time. It was developed early in the outbreak when there were very little data or evidence about the groups most at risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes, and so was intended to be a dynamic list that would adapt as our knowledge of the disease improved and more evidence became apparent.

Over the last few weeks, RCPCH has worked with paediatric specialties to review this evidence and revise the advice on which children and young people are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19 infection and therefore should continue to shield.

This has indicated that not all those children and young people who are currently advised to shield need to continue to do so. The new guidance explains – the majority of children with conditions including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and kidney disease do not need to continue to shield and can, for example, return to school as it reopens. This includes many children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and scoliosis, for whom the benefits of school - in terms of access to therapies and developmental support – far outweigh the risk of infection.

In principle:

  • Children and young people who are cared for just in primary care are very unlikely to need to continue to shield.
  • A small group of children who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ due to their pre-existing condition will need to continue to shield.
  • A further larger group of children exists who due to their underlying condition may need to shield and the decision to continue to shield would normally result from a discussion between the clinician, the child and their family.

The government announced on 23 April that all essential workers in England and members of their households who are showing symptoms of coronavirus will now be able to get tested. People working in education and childcare are classed as essential workers, including support and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals. 

The process for arranging a test is explained here. Eligible people can be referred by their employer for a test, or book a test themselves directly here. You will be able to select either a regional test site drive-through appointment or a home test kit – though the availability of home test kits will be limited initially. 

 

This depends on their contract. Some contracts of employment permit this; others would, at least in normal circumstances, require the consent of the member of staff concerned. 

In the current circumstances, usual protocols may need to be suspended. The government’s guidance for residential settings during this period, for example, already states that, in regard to special school provision, staff from elsewhere may be brought in to prevent closure or to allow a closed setting to re-open. 

Wherever possible, any requests for staff to work in schools other than their own should be agreed beforehand with local trade unions. No member of staff should suffer any detriment in pay and conditions as a result of such agreements. New roles must be clearly explained, and staff should receive appropriate training. 
 

The DfE’s main guidance for schools about temporarily closing includes some useful advice and links to support is available for children with mental health issues.

Public Health England has also produced some useful guidance on this, together with guidance for parents and carers on supporting children and young people with mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus outbreak.

The government has produced guidance for education settings and local authorities about children supported through social care, with EHC plans or identified as vulnerable by their school or local authority. This includes advice on attendance, transport, holidays, and what happens if a setting closes. 

The ASCL specialist team has also published guidance on how schools and colleges can support vulnerable children and young people who aren’t in school or college at the moment, including those with hidden vulnerabilities. 

Our first guidance paper on this issue set out some principles and included some useful links. Our second guidance paper brings together a wide range of ideas and approaches being taken by ASCL members. 


 

Government guidance on how to follow safeguarding procedures when planning remote education strategies and teaching remotely includes information on the following: 

  • Safeguarding pupils and teachers online
  • Reporting concerns
  • Communicating with parents, carers and pupils
  • Virtual lessons and live streaming
  • Proving pastoral care remotely
  • Personal data and GDPR


 

This is an issue facing all school leaders, though brought into sharp relief in the independent sector because fees are involved. The leaders’ role is crucial in managing expectations and anxieties among all stakeholders. Much of the regularly updated DfE guidance is useful. 

Some points to bear in mind include:

  • Everyone is feeling stressed, which can make parents, staff and pupils react in more extreme ways than might otherwise be the case. Encourage teachers to be mindful of the pressures on parents and pupils and vice versa. 
  • Be confident in your school’s overall strategy. Make sure it is coherent but see evolution as a positive. Listen to all stakeholders and be prepared to adapt, but do not be swayed by every demand. Remember the majority of feedback is positive – and make sure you pass these on to your teachers, who will also be getting the negatives direct to them. 
  • Safeguarding for adults and pupils is paramount. It is essential to have strong protocols in place, which could involve a signed home-school agreement to ensure everyone is aware. Be mindful of the updated Covid19 DfE safeguarding guidance and useful advice for remote learning here.
  • Be mindful of additional teacher workload caused by rapidly needed changes to plans, methods, technologies and home circumstances. 
    • Encourage departmental and faculty leaders to support collaborative working, reassess topics, priorities and decisions on core concepts to be covered.  
    • Most schools have moved to a ‘mixed diet’ of live lessons (a bit more familiar and motivational; (often efficient in getting information across and cutting down on marking feedback); online tasks and videos (allows families flexible timing); hard copy work (lessens screen time and reliance on devices but home printer or school office staff availability are issues); open ended or directional challenges etc
    • This unfamiliar working pattern is tiring and all parties may need reduced hours, time off and some variety – extended lunch or exercise breaks, a ‘free’ afternoon’, adapted theme and celebration days; targeted use of commercial, DfE or BBC resources. 
    • Even (and maybe especially) dynamic, experienced teachers may suffer a loss of self confidence in the new way of working and may fear being judged by parents.  Praise and support and definitely no formal appraisal of lessons or ‘performance management’ except in extreme cases; the IT department on call; reminders that parents have discovered teaching isn’t easy.
    • Staff contact: remote ‘staff meetings’ and ‘coffee breaks’ are important, and may cut down or balance ‘behind the scenes’ chat. Remember the wellbeing of ‘furloughed’ staff but that they cannot be included in ‘work’ meetings. 
    • Understand each teacher’s personal circumstances and take reasonable steps to accommodate where possible, but without unduly overloading other staff. 

Most teachers are aware that they are professionals doing a key role at a time of national crisis and, in the case of the independent sector, many may be aware of their importance to the school’s future. As long as they know that the expectations are reasonable and that they are valued and supported, rather than judged or taken for granted, most are rising to the challenge.

 

The government’s guidance on implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings, published on 24 March, says that the DfE "will work with schools, childcare settings and local authorities to ensure that adequate supplies of personal and domestic cleaning products are available to schools". We understand that Public Health England’s advice is that washing hands well with soap and water is more effective than using hand sanitiser, but recognise that many schools and colleges would like to be able to use both. 

We are expecting the government to publish a set of FAQs on health and safety in schools and colleges shortly. 

The government’s guidance on implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings, published on 24 March, provides helpful clarity on this. It says that: 

  • Staff with serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus must not attend work. 
  • Staff with other conditions that mean they are at increased risk of serious illness as a result of coronavirus should work from home where possible, and education and childcare settings should endeavour to support this.
  • If a child eligible for a school place or member of staff lives with someone in a vulnerable health group, including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting. 
  • If a child eligible for a school place lives in a household with someone who is in the most vulnerable health groups, as set out in the guidance on shielding, they should only attend an education or childcare setting if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and the child is able to understand and follow those instructions.

On the third bullet point, we would advise school and college leaders that, while it is possible to ask a member of staff in this situation to come in to work, it should be avoided if at all possible. Where an employer insists on a member of staff coming in to work, they will need to have taken appropriate advice from their own HR and legal advisors on the associated risks and potential liabilities. Where staff remain at home they should be paid their normal pay in full. 
 

ACAS have provided some useful guidance on this. They suggest that employers listen to any concerns that staff have, and take what steps they can to protect them, for example by offering extra car parking so that people can avoid using public transport. 

If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.
If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.
 

In normal circumstances schools would come together physically to support anyone in the community who was bereaved, and in particular when a member of the school community dies. This is clearly impossible while schools are only open to a very few, and whilst social distancing needs to be observed. Once schools are reopened there may well need to be a time to reflect on such losses and to grieve together. Local Authorities are usually well placed to help with counselling, and immediate assistance and support could also be provided at a MAT level where relevant. 

At the moment, the best resources for this appear to be online. CRUSE (www.cruse.org.uk) has an excellent section on coronavirus and the additional challenges that it is bringing to the bereaved, but it also has a very extensive section on supporting children who are grieving. They also have a helpline. GPs can also help with access to counselling, and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (www.bcap.org.uk) has a directory of registered counsellors and some advice on coping with the coronavirus epidemic. 
 

The government’s guidance on implementing social distancing in educational settings provides information on this, and on other recommended actions to protect children and adults. It includes the following points:

  • Scientific advice indicates that educational staff, including childcare practitioners, do not require personal protective equipment (PPE), as children displaying symptoms of the virus should not be present in education settings, and there is a reduced risk of transmission from asymptomatic people.  
  • Additional advice for settings caring for children and young people with complex needs will be published shortly.
  • Schools and colleges who are short of cleaning product supplies should email DfE-CovidEnquiries.COMMERCIAL@education.gov.uk, providing details of the supplies they are short of, and where they have been trying to buy their supplies.
  • School and college staff do not need to take children’s temperatures every morning, but should be vigilant about signs of a temperature.
  • Staff in educational or childcare settings do not need to stringently wash their clothes at the end of their working day. This is only required by medical and care professionals providing intimate care to people with coronavirus.

Related Pages

Updated guidance for FE and skills providers

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  • Coronavirus

Equality, diversity and inclusion

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