Schools may have closed to most pupils this term, but teachers still have safety concerns and some are refusing to go in, Tes has learned.
The NEU teaching union says a minority of teachers in nurseries, primary and secondary schools are exercising their legal right not to attend work on health and safety grounds under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said the teachers were now doing it “over particular issues in their schools” rather than on “a blanket basis” as at the start of this term (when the union said 6,000 teachers submitted section 44 letters in response to the full reopening of primary schools).
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Dr Bousted said: “It’s for things like [staff] being required to move across bubbles or if they’ve got too many pupils in their class or if they don’t think the school is practising hygiene measures or social distancing.”
She added: “The recourse to heads threatening to dock pay [of these staff] could be industrial action or it also could be to go and fight the case out in court.
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"But we hope and expect headteachers to be sensible and to understand that if someone is sending in a section 44 letter they have real and genuine fears for their health and safety, and rather than to threaten them and threaten to dock their pay, the way forward is to meet them, virtually if possible, and to take the appropriate measure to address their concerns.
“People don’t hand in section 44 letters lightly. You’re dealing with a dedicated profession here.”
Tes has also learned that a “small minority” of teachers in nursery schools, required to remain fully open during the pandemic, are among staff handing in section 44 letters.
Stefan Simms, NEU rep for Ealing, one of five areas in England where the new South African variant of Covid has been identified, said: ”According to [Office for National Statistics] data, the age group where infections are not even falling slowly is the 0 to four-year-old group, which is the group which the government has said it wants in school, and we are resisting that vigorously.
“There are schools where staff have issued their section 44 letters and we have followed that up with threats of industrial action if their pay is docked or they are disciplined.”
The NAHT school leaders' union says it has advised its members, where they receive section 44 letters from staff, to “treat each case on its own merits and take advice from HR [human resources]”.
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.