Newsflash - Returning to School in the midst of Covid-19

Newsflash - Returning to School in the midst of Covid-19

H&S
Posted  5th March 2021

Returning to School in the midst of Covid

As you will be aware, due to the rapid return of face-to-face learning on Monday 8 March, there are a number of factors for schools to be aware of ahead of the return on Monday (or shortly after).


Covid testing in Schools
As you will know, the government has confirmed that schools will increase the use of rapid lateral flow Covid-19 testing in a bid to minimise the spread of Coronavirus.
The rapid flow tests will be used to detect asymptomatic individuals (said to make up a third of all Covid-19 cases) with the virus early on and requiring those with a positive result to isolate.
Originally, the idea was to reduce the need for the larger bubbles in schools to isolate because if a close contact tested positive, those potentially affected individuals could return to school if they agreed to test daily in the morning for 7 school days. However, this is now under review due to the new variants of the virus and until the outcome of that review is known, those in close contact will continue to need to self-isolate as before.

Who?
Secondary school and college pupils will need to test three times on site upon their return and thereafter twice weekly at home. In addition, households with primary, secondary and college pupils are also now entitled to free tests, twice weekly, although it is for the households to obtain their own tests and schools should not be providing tests to families for this purpose.
Staff of all schools will have access to two rapid results test each week. The Government has said that testing is not mandatory for staff and they do not need to provide proof of a negative test result to attend school or college in person, although participation in testing is strongly encouraged.
Further information can be viewed here:

  1. DfE Coronavirus (Covid-19) asymptomatic testing in schools and college
  2. DfE School Coronavirus (Covid 19) Operational Guidance

Consent
Staff (and pupils or parents where the pupil is under 16 or does not have capacity to consent) will need to consent to the testing and such consent should include providing their confirmatory test results to the school (in the event of serial testing as any positive results will be confirmed through a PCR test). Any such data must be stored in line with the data protection principles.


Staff refusing to test
Staff members have the legal right to refuse to undertake the test or to inform the school of their results. We hope such cases will be few and far between. If they develop symptoms consistent with Covid-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, they will need to self-isolate in the usual way.

If you have a staff member who refuses to undertake the test, you cannot force them to do so and should not discipline them for refusing. However, you should explore with them why they are reluctant to agree to this. They may not want to discuss this with you but expressing to your workforce the importance of regular testing to protect all those within the school community and creating a safe environment may be enough to make them think again. We would of course recommend continuing to engage with staff about the overall benefits and encourage colleagues to participate.

 
Staff tests positive or a close contact
As in the current way, if a staff member tests positive they will have to self-isolate (along with close contacts) and book in to have a PCR test. Equally a staff member may need to self isolate if they have been in close contact with a positive case. Payment for this will be as you have been doing to date and is dependant upon whether the member is staff is unwell themselves, can work from home and whether the school adopts the Burgundy or Green Books (or if not, what their own policies provide for). If you need specific advice on a particular situation, please feel free to contact us.
There may be issues in the future if the requirements change so that contacts of a positive test can remain at school if they continue to take the daily test and their result is negative. This could include staff refusing to undertake the daily test or refusing to come into work for fear of contracting Covid-19 from another member of the bubble. We will address this if and when this approach is taken by the Government.


Face coverings
The government has also recommended that the use of face coverings as already being used in secondary schools is extended for a limited period to all indoor environments - including classrooms - unless 2m social distancing can be maintained. Face coverings are now also advised in early years and primary schools for staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas.

If you have a staff member who refuses to wear a face covering when requested to do so, we would advise you to initially speak to them to find out why this is the case. They may be medically exempt from having to wear a covering but otherwise, as a first port of call, it is wise to explore and try to allay any concerns they have, highlighting the importance of creating a safe working environment for all concerned. 


Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Staff
The current advice for CEV staff is that they remain at home. They can work from home if this is possible.
Those living with someone who is CEV can still attend work where home-working is not possible and should ensure they maintain good prevention practice in the workplace and home settings. Schools should explore any concerns with them.
Further information can be viewed as follows:

  1. DfE School Coronavirus (Covid 19) Operational Guidance
  2. Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19


Staff welfare 
Some employees may feel anxious ahead of the whole school returning imminently. It is important to involve your staff in preparations for reopening your school and keep them informed of measures you are putting in place to maintain a safe working environment.

It is also important to open up discussions with staff about their welfare and how they are coping and point them to any resources that may help. Mind have a toolkit for school staff and other resources are available as referred to on page 39 “Supporting Staff” of this guidance HERE.


Vaccinations
With the Government’s aim to vaccinate all adults by 31 July 2021, attention is turning to what employers can or should do to insist on or encourage as many staff as possible to have the vaccine.

It is important to note the vaccination is optional. No one can be forced to have it and there are several reasons why staff may refuse to have the vaccine. These may include concerns regarding a possible allergy, having a philosophical or religious belief preventing someone from having the vaccine, concerns regarding medical treatment or needles, concerns over the safety testing of the vaccine or long term effects or the possible impact on those who are pregnant, breast feeding or planning to become pregnant.

Some individuals may also be advised not to have the vaccine such as those with certain medical conditions or severe allergies to an ingredient of the vaccine (or possibly some pregnant women).

If staff refuse to have the vaccination, our advice at this time would be to explore the employee’s concerns and try to allay those concerns by pointing the employee to official information. If they still don’t agree, you could look to implement alternative solutions such as use of PPE, change of working environment, social distancing at work etc although we appreciate this may not be so easy in a school environment.

Some employers may want to make it a compulsory requirement that all staff have received the vaccination. This throws up a number of legal issues and potential claims if individuals are not recruited or are dismissed because they have not had the vaccine or because they refuse to tell you whether they have had it or not. However, the strength of such claim will depend on the individual circumstances surrounding their refusal and the need for the employer to have its staff vaccinated. If for example, the staff member worked with extremely vulnerable children or staff, there could be more justification for requiring this.

Employers will be better encouraged to engage sensitively with staff about the benefits to the school community for the wider workforce to have received the vaccine in line with latest medical advice and pointing them to official information at this time.


We are here to help!
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions: georgina.decosta@judicium.com or on 07399185443.