What is the guidance for vulnerable staff in September?

Vulnerable and extremely vulnerable members of staff have mostly been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. How will the new guidance for September change things?
7th July 2020, 6:01am


What is the guidance for vulnerable staff in September?

Coronavirus: Teachers Who Are Vulnerable To Coronavirus Are Being Asked To Return To Work After Schools Reopened This Week, Warns The Neu Teaching Union

Since March, teachers who are vulnerable, extremely vulnerable or share households with those who are vulnerable, have been protected by the shielding guidelines.

But with the new guidance released on Thursday, it is clear that this will change when all students return in September.

So, what do you need to know?

Who are the vulnerable and extremely vulnerable?

Guidance from the NHS places people who are more at risk into two categories: vulnerable and extremely vulnerable. 

If you fall into the extremely vulnerable category, you would have received a letter instructing you to shield. Pregnant women fall into the vulnerable category.

Does the guidance suggest these teachers should return to teach in schools?

The short answer is: yes. 

On the face of it, the government expects all previously shielding teachers and school staff to return because “the risks to all staff will be mitigated significantly, including those who are extremely clinically vulnerable and clinically vulnerable.”

It goes on to say these staff members should take care to socially distance and that school leaders should check the latest guidance on keeping vulnerable people safe. 

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But then it gets a little less clear. 

It states that school leaders should be “flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible or in roles in school where it is possible to maintain social distancing.”

This suggests working from home should still be an option for some, despite earlier suggestions that it was safe for all staff to return. 

And it then says that those who “live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can attend the workplace”.

So, what should schools do?

The unions believe that the guidance is not clear enough for school leaders to be able to make decisions about vulnerable staff. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says schools will need more details from the government about the scientific thinking behind this change.

“We would urge the government as soon as possible to provide clear information about the rationale for deciding that it is safe for people in vulnerable health categories to return to work and schools,” he says.

“It is a big leap to go from advising them that they should isolate in their homes to it now being safe to return to busy environments when we know that coronavirus has not gone away. Clarity about the public health reasons for this decision would help build confidence.”

James Bowen, policy director at the NAHT, agrees.

“School leaders will rightly be concerned for the wellbeing of all their staff ahead of a return to school in September,” says Bowen. “The issue of clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable staff is a complex one. It is one of the areas of the guidance that we feel still needs further clarification, both for the staff themselves and also for school leaders.”

Barton says that the reintegration of vulnerable staff into the school environment will be “very challenging” and that leaders will need to be aware that many of those staff will be “understandably anxious and nervous and it isn’t going to be a quick fix. It will take time to build confidence.”

How to use PPE in schools

He stresses that working remotely and in roles that allow for social distancing are options available to schools, and therefore leaders should do their best to accommodate this type of working for staff most at risk.

What should vulnerable school staff do if they are delegated tasks that put them at risk?

If you are classed as vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, and you are asked to work in a way you consider goes against the guidelines, or delegated to do a task you feel puts you at risk, then what are your rights?

A representative from Voice: The Union for Education Professionals suggests affected staff should ask for their individual needs to be taken into account.

“Employers may need to undertake individual risk assessments in addition to those covering the site more generally,” Voice says.

“Where staff feel vulnerable, or where they have concerns for those they live with, we would expect the employers to be sensitive. 

 “It remains a legal requirement for all employers to assess the risk in the workplace. Voice is aware of the concerning evidence emerging about the unequal impact Covid-19 is having on BAME workers. We would expect employers to support their BAME and other vulnerable staff and seek to identify any existing underlying health conditions that may increase the risks to them when working with children.”   Voice adds that if a member of school staff feels their workplace is not taking care of them, members should contact their union for advice about their individual situation. 

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