What does a second lockdown mean for pregnant teachers?

Pregnant teachers are classified as vulnerable – so should they keep going into school, asks Emma Sheppard
3rd November 2020, 1:22pm

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What does a second lockdown mean for pregnant teachers?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/what-does-second-lockdown-mean-pregnant-teachers
Coronavirus Schools

It's a confusing time for us, as teachers, to know exactly how to keep ourselves safe. With the second national lockdown coming into force this week, the government appears to be taking seriously the threat of the coronavirus and its transmission throughout society. 

And yet, as teachers, we are interacting every day with sometimes thousands of students. Recent Office for National Statistics data shows that infection rates among secondary school students and young adults aged 11-24 are increasing faster than in any other demographic.

For teachers who fall into vulnerable categories - including those who are pregnant - knowing exactly which precautions to take, in addition to those recommended to all staff, is more confusing still.

The NHS reassures us that there's no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from the coronavirus, but that pregnant women are classed as "at moderate risk", because of their susceptibility to flu-like viruses.

Coronavirus: The risk posed to pregnant teachers

The problem, repeated by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and in reports published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, is that this is very much an evolving situation, and there is a current lack of high-quality evidence regarding any additional risk posed by Covid-19 to pregnant women, or the risk of transmission to unborn on new-born babies. 

Ongoing studies are being conducted by the UK Obstetric Surveillance System and the Pan-Covid Pregnancy and Neonatal Registry, but it has been admitted that studies currently available are "incipient, and adopt poor methods".

However, the research available does report that small numbers of pregnant women have been admitted to critical care in the UK, and highlights risks for black, Asian and/or minority ethnic and overweight pregnant women, those with pre-existing comorbidity and those older than 35 years: similar categories to those monitored under normal circumstances. 

The maternity-rights organisation Pregnant then Screwed reminds us that all pregnant women are still clinically vulnerable. But the guidance regarding social distancing from 28 weeks of pregnancy comes from the RCOG, as the majority of women who did become severely ill were in their third trimester of pregnancy.

A Covid-secure workplace? 

This is where the guidance affects school staff and leaders. Under normal circumstances, pregnant women must undergo a risk assessment to ensure that their workplace is safe for them. New government guidance states that people who are vulnerable can go to work as long as the workplace is Covid-secure, but should work from home wherever possible.

Once again, this is a confusing statement. Teachers, like nurses, are employed in people-facing roles, and the current advice from the Royal College of Nursing is that: "Where the risk can't be removed, your employer should look at suitable alternative work, including home working…or redeployment in line with health and safety standards." 

According to Pregnant then Screwed, school leaders - like other employers - must suspend you on full pay if alternative safe working arrangements cannot be found. The organisation emphasises that this means keeping pregnant women "two metres away from everyone" or putting "additional protections…in place, such as screens or face coverings".

The important thing is that a risk assessment is a legal requirement. Both the employer and the employee must be in agreement with the safety measures put in place if pregnant staff are to remain in school.

Finding creative solutions

While this might sound like yet another challenge for teachers and school leaders - up to a full term of working from home in the worst-case scenario - lockdown has shown us that, as a profession, we can deliver creative solutions. An informal social media poll from The MTPT Project on 10 October indicated that two-thirds of teachers were working from home by 28 weeks pregnant.

Where teachers have shared positive stories through The MTPT Project community, approaches have included:

  • Working from home from 28 weeks' pregnant, as per RCOG guidance, on full pay.
  • Delivering live lessons to appropriate classes.
  • Completing administrative, planning, assessment and curriculum tasks - relieving the workload for colleagues.
  • Reducing timetables to minimise the contact time that teachers have with students and TA colleagues.
  • Working with small groups, minimising the number of students they come into contact with.
  • Working shorter days, in order to avoid peak hours on public transport.
  • Teachers choosing to continue working, wearing personal protective equipment that makes them feel comfortable.

While the information available to us is not yet fully comprehensive, school leaders with pregnant staff should be familiar with the information provided by the NHS, RCOG, government and other independent studies and reviews. An informed risk assessment, agreeing on safe working practices with any member of pregnant staff, is the next step.

An advice helpline is available through Pregnant then Screwed, on 0161 222 9879. This organisation, along with teachers' and headteachers' unions, can clarify points of legality, and source templates for letters or individual risk assessments.

Emma Sheppard is founder of The MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher (MTPT) Project and a lead practitioner for English

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