Schools Staff: COVID-19 Health & Safety advice update

Additional FAQs on health and safety for school staff

Please check back regularly – UNISON are expecting another update on PPE from the government

What MUST your school do to keep you safe? 

Your employer has a legal duty to ensure your health, safety and welfare as far as is reasonably practicable, under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work ActThey are also required by law to carry out a risk assessment to find out what they need to do to keep you safe.

In the context of COVID-19, working at home would be the best way of minimizing risks of contracting or spreading the virus. However, this is not possible for all staff, due to the efforts of schools to remain open to supervise vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

The Department for Education and Public Health England have issued guidance for schools that remain open, setting out the following measures schools should follow:

  • Tell children, parents, carers or any visitors, such as suppliers, not to visit the school if they are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Consider how children arrive and reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport.
  • Ensure class sizes reflect the numbers of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible.
  • Stagger lunch times, break times and the movement of pupils around the school to reduce large groups of children gathering.
  • Discourage parents from gathering at school gates.
  • Make sure anyone who is feeling ill stays at home.
  • Ensure all staff and children wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently, and are encouraged not to touch their face, while using a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and using bins for tissue waste. If children or young people have trouble washing their hands, ensure help is available.
  • Inform parents and communities about the measures being taken and get their help to implement them.
  • Increase cleaning of surfaces in classrooms, including desks and handles, and within toilet blocks and changing rooms, adhering to guidance on cleaning of non-healthcare settings.
  • For children and young people with an EHC plan, work with the local authority as well as with parents to decide how best to continue supporting these children and young people to stay healthy.
  • Schools must have adequate supplies of personal and domestic cleaning products.

The Department for Education have said that they will issue further detailed guidance on Personal Protective Equipment for settings that require it and UNISON is pushing the government to publish this guidance.

What else does UNISON recommend your should your school be doing to keep you safe? 

  • Making available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable gloves, aprons and face masks following a risk assessment and where it’s not possible to implement government guidance on social distancing. The PPE required will depend on the nature of your role, and should be issued where the risks you are exposed to make it necessary. Any staff who require it must be trained in its use. Read UNISON’s PPE guide for more details.
  • Ensuring stocks of soap are checked and replenished before the start of every day.
  • Making alcohol-based hand sanitiser available in classrooms and the lunch hall.
  • Putting in place measures to encourage staff and children to stay 2 metres apart where possible, such as rearranging desks and introducing floor markings.
  • Ensuring adequate supplies of thermometers to monitor the health of children and staff.
  • Staggering staff breaks so that safe distances can be kept in the staff room.
  • Keeping windows and doors open where it is safe to do so.
  • Keeping in touch with their local public health team over health & safety issues.

What can I do personally to keep myself as safe as possible? 

  • If you or someone you live with has an underlying health condition, is pregnant or over 70, you should arrange to work from home. The NJC national unions and Local Government Association employers have issued clear guidance to schools that staff in this position should not be in school during the epidemic. So you should be either working from home, or if that is not possible, be home on full pay for the duration of this emergency. Some employers have agreed CPD plans for staff to undertake at home (see UNISON resources). This can be particularly helpful for staff whose role cannot be done at home. Also, you could temporarily agree to take on other work tasks form home.
  • Do not go into school if you are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 or live with someone who is doing so. Follow the government’s staying at home guidance.
  • Avoid, where possible, physical contact with children. Try to focus on verbal reassurances if a child needs to be comforted.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after any physical contact with children soap, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser where soap and water is not immediately available.
  • If administering medication or first aid to children, wash your hands before and afterwards and always before moving to another child. Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable masks, gloves and apron if you’re concerned about potential exposure. If not available, urgently raise this with your head teacher and UNISON branch.
  • Try to avoid touching your face and regularly wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Keep 2 metres apart from others wherever possible, in classrooms, in the staff room and generally around the school.
  • Avoid using colleague’s phones or other work tools and equipment. If it is necessary, always clean the equipment before and afterwards.
  • Speak to your line manager about difficulties maintaining safe practice with any individual children so the situation can be discussed with parents.
  • When you get home, wash your hands and remove shoes straight away. Take work clothes off immediately reaching home and launder them, where possible before touching any members of your family.

How can the school reduce physical contact between children? 

  • Avoid games and activities which lead to physical contact between children.
  • Conduct as much activity as possible outside.
  • Spread children out as far as possible when in the classroom and when eating – ideally 3 metres apart, to allow for movement in and out of seats.
  • Encourage children to walk in single file when moving around the school.
  • Make sure that children are not holding hands or touching each other as much as possible and encourage them to keep 2 metres apart.
  • Encourage children to avoid touching their face.

What should I do if I have concerns about the health and safety measures being taken at my school? 

Ask to see a copy of your school’s risk assessment and contact your local UNISON branch for urgent assistance.

What should I do if someone develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) at school?  

If anyone becomes unwell and you have any concerns their symptoms may be consistent with COVID-19, they should be sent home and advised to follow the staying at home guidance.

The Department for Education and Public Health England have published the following guidance to follow in this situation:

“If a child is awaiting collection, they should be moved, if possible and if appropriate, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door. Settings should be mindful of individual children’s needs – for example it would not be appropriate for younger children to be alone without adult supervision. 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.

If they need clinical advice, they (or their teacher, parent or guardian) should go online to NHS 111 (or call 111 if they don’t have internet access). 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.”