Recently updated government guidance regarding an easing of shielding measures for clinically extremely vulnerable people has raised questions for our pregnant colleagues.
At a time when movement and change are in the air, many teachers – particularly those who are in their third trimester – are wondering what these new guidelines mean for them.
Pregnant women, even after 28 weeks, have only ever been considered as a vulnerable group, unless they have an underlying condition that puts them in the clinically extremely vulnerable group as well.
Covid and schools: What the new guidance means for pregnant teachers
The new guidance, therefore, does not affect the majority of pregnant women. The guidance surrounding working for all pregnant women in their third trimester, however, remains the same: “Your employer should ensure they are able to adhere to any active national guidance on social distancing.”
If risks cannot be removed or managed, “you should be offered suitable alternative work or working arrangements (including working from home) or be suspended on your normal pay”.
For those staff who are pregnant and have an underlying condition that means that they have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, the new guidance regarding working is still clear: colleagues should continue “to maintain strict social distancing and to keep their overall social contacts at low levels, such as working from home where possible”.
However, throughout the pandemic, schools have been interpreting in different ways the phrase “where possible”, and the possibility of offering social-distancing measures in an environment crowded with people.
Arguably, it is not possible to fulfil the expectations of a teaching role while working from home, because teaching is such a client-facing profession. However, our two lockdowns, and periods of blended learning to continue provision when groups of students and staff are isolating, have proven that creative solutions can be found.
Keeping staff safe
Recent webinars and the sharing of best practice from The MTPT Project have explored the ways in which individuals and schools are using risk assessments, and managing remote-working arrangements in a way that both keeps staff safe and maintains quality provision for students and teams.
Currently, the vaccine is being offered to a number of groups, which includes clinically vulnerable people. Officially, pregnant colleagues are included in this clinically vulnerable group. However, while there is “no known risk associated with giving non-live vaccines during pregnancy”, there is currently “insufficient evidence to recommend routine use of Covid-19 vaccines during pregnancy’.
Until further testing of the vaccine is undertaken in regards to its risks in pregnancy, the vaccination is only recommended (in discussion with their medical team) to pregnant women who also fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable category. This means that pregnant women cannot necessarily reassure themselves with the additional protection of the vaccine that has enabled some school staff over the age of 50, or clinically extremely vulnerable staff, to return to schools with confidence.
The strong advice from both medical practitioners and The MTPT Project, therefore, is that teachers continue to work from home from 28 weeks until medical and governmental advice provides us with further updates.
With an increasing percentage of the population receiving the vaccination, and rates of infection falling, however, colleagues in their third trimester may feel empowered to review their risk assessment and make the decision to continue with face-to-face teaching.
This is an increasingly hopeful option for many – but it is a decision that must, ultimately, be made by the pregnant individual, not the school, using information available from their midwives and healthcare teams.
Emma Sheppard is founder of The MaternityTeacher/ PaternityTeacher Project, and a lead practitioner for English