Teachers in their third trimester of pregnancy have raised concerns over inconsistencies in the government's guidance about whether they need to work face-to-face in schools.
Assistant headteacher Caroline Spalding said on Twitter, "I appreciate schools must respond to their context but the inconsistencies in the way pregnant women are being treated during pandemic does not seem fair or justified."
"Surely wrong some in third trimester have no choice but to be in on 8 March but others can choose to WFH [work from home]?" she added.
Ms Spalding said even in the third trimester, workers are not classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, so are not expected to shield.
Nope. No guidance to that effect. Even in 3rd trimester you are not classed as CEV so not expected to shield. All totally at discretion of each school and individual risk assessment. 🤷♀️— Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) March 3, 2021
The advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is that for pregnant women working in a public-facing role, those who can work from home should continue to do so.
It says that employers must carry out risk assessments for staff, and that "if you are unable to work from home, you can work in a public-facing role provided your employer conducts the risk assessment and is able to make appropriate arrangements to sufficiently minimise your exposure to the virus".
And in government guidance on the issue, it says: "If you are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, or if you are pregnant and have an underlying health condition that puts you at a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19 at any gestation, you should take a more precautionary approach.
"This is because although you are at no more risk of contracting the virus than any other non-pregnant person who is in similar health, you have an increased risk of becoming severely ill and of pre-term birth if you contract Covid-19."
But teachers on social media have pointed out this leaves the decision about whether those in the third trimester should work in schools or not at headteachers' discretion.
One teacher said they were 35 weeks' pregnant and had been refused the option of working from home by their headteacher.
I am 35 weeks and in next face-to-face teaching next week. I asked to work from home but it was refused. In fact, it wouldn’t even be considered as an option despite me saying how anxious I felt. It’s frustrating when I know women in other schools in my position are allowed 😞— Jen (@jennn1186) March 3, 2021
And while another pointed out that government guidance states that employers should consider how to maximise potential for home working, Ms Spalding pointed out that a "more precautionary" approach could simply mean giving staff fewer break duties, while it does not specifically state that asking staff to work in school after 28 weeks is in breach of the guidance.
I definitely read this as after 28 weeks you should be working from home.— Miss P English (@MissCPEnglish) March 3, 2021
I don't understand how it can be read as anything else? pic.twitter.com/5HApb6nWFt
“For many workers” does not state ‘all workers’. Heads asking staff to come in after 28 weeks are not breaching this guidance so long as a risk assessment is in place.— Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) March 3, 2021
Teachers said the situation was causing them stress and anxiety. One teacher said she was 32 weeks' pregnant and had experienced a "poorly pregnancy".
She was now waiting for the results of a gestational diabetes test and said that while she did not want the test it would at least classify her as clinically extremely vulnerable if positive.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so stressed. 32w, had a v poorly pregnancy, and being made to return. I am currently awaiting results from a gestational diabetes test and obviously I don’t want it but feel it will solve my problems if +ve (diabetes =CEV)— kate (@kejowey) March 4, 2021
"Got my ‘return-to-work risk assessment’ tomorrow and I’m going to have to be really firm and stand tough," she added.
"Just feels awful that I should even have to be fighting it."
Ms Spalding said the space for "varying interpretations" of the guidance meant individual schools could ask teachers to work in schools in the latter stages of their pregnancies.
"The guidance says there is increased risk but pregnant women are not classed CEV and so long as risk assessment supports it they can be in. Hence scope for varying interpretations and offer of adaptations," she said.
Julie McCulloch, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our understanding is that women in their third trimester of pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing severe illness if they contract Covid-19.
“For teachers and other staff in schools and colleges, this means that their employers should undertake a thorough risk assessment and allow them to work from home in a different capacity if at all possible.
"They should only continue to work in a school environment if both employer and employee are totally satisfied that the risk assessment indicates it’s safe for them to do so.”
The Department for Education and Department for Health and Social Care have been contacted for comment.