The Department for Education has said today it will be a matter for schools to decide on whether to discipline teachers and school staff who do not return to their primary schools when they start to reopen after 1 June.
More than 90 per cent of teachers said in a survey this week they would not feel safe if lessons restarted for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils under plans outlined by the prime minister on Sunday.
And those who do not go into work could ultimately face the sack, according to one headteacher, who said it could amount to a breach of contract.
The head, who did not wish to be named, told Tes: “Our HR section would offer advice as to the process over people refusing to come to work. It could ultimately lead to dismissal, of course. I don't want to be scaring staff and saying the hard line but that's the reality”.
He added: "If someone was really anxious about coming in I'd would say go and talk to your GP.
"You have to think carefully before disciplining people on this, but then again if I had some teachers who were swinging the lead I would tell them I'm having that conversation with HR and you'll be in breach of contract."
The DfE says it is urging schools to “work with teachers” and take into account their individual needs, including whether they may be self-isolating or in vulnerable groups, before deciding on punitive measures.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We really need to avoid getting into a situation where we are talking about using disciplinary measures against staff who are too frightened to come into school.
“In any case, it would be difficult to do as we would imagine that they would simply say they are self-isolating. The whole thing has to be built on confidence rather than compulsion.”
The DfE told Tes that because teachers are employed directly by schools, it was a matter for schools themselves as to whether to take disciplinary action.
Chris Dyson, headteacher of Parklands Primary School in Leeds, said: “You are going to have headteachers like me saying, ‘Fair enough I understand your worries – I can cover you – you’re still working from home.’ But then you’re going to have some headteachers who are going to be doing it by the book and saying: ‘You’ve refused to come in, so it’s disciplinary action.’”
Current plans to return children to school could risk spreading the coronavirus, the DfE's top scientific adviser admitted this week.