A union has raised concerns over teaching assistants being told to cover for cleaners in carrying out school deep cleans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Unison says safety concerns include types of chemicals being used and the fact that TAs are untrained in deep cleaning.
It says the problem may be in smaller schools trying to avoid the cost of hiring more cleaning staff – but says it will investigate the scale of the practice as part of the forthcoming survey of its membership.
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Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, said: “TAs have always done some cleaning with things like cleaning up after paint spillages and things that you would normally expect – but doing deep cleaning relating to saliva, coughs and sneezes and those sort of things is an issue.
“People have been told they have to do those sorts of things without working through the consequences and without talking to us as unions about the safety and the risks involved, and without talking to [other] staff about the risks, and there is certainly something wrong there.”
Last week, a Unison survey of more than 45,000 support staff in schools revealed that 30 per cent were suffering high anxiety or losing sleep over the plans to increase pupil numbers this week. And it highlighted that many TAs and other support staff tend to be more at risk of the coronavirus because they are older or disproportionately from the black, Asian and minority-ethnic community, or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Mr Richards said: “Particularly in smaller schools, and where, obviously where there is a potential cost of getting more cleaners in, they are seeking to get other people in [TAs] to cover that.
“We’ve been told that TAs have been told to deep clean. What materials are they supposed to use? Are they using the same consistent materials? There are lots of issues about chemicals being used. And what if an untrained cleaner goes and cleans something but doesn’t clean it very well?”
The DfE says it advises school leaders to discuss plans for managing additional cleaning requirements with cleaning contractors and staff, and that it "trusts schools" to come to "sensible and pragmatic arrangements based on their local needs and circumstances".