School staff who live with people most at-risk from coronavirus should work from home “where possible”, the Department for Education has said.
Updated guidance published last night gives schools more information about which staff should come into school, and which should stay home.
In keeping with guidance for other workers, school staff with the most serious underlying health conditions are being told they “must not attend work”, and those with less serious conditions “should work from home where possible”.
However, the new guidance for schools states that even staff members who live in the same household with someone in the most vulnerable health groups “should only attend work if stringent social distancing can be adhered to”, and that schools should allow them to work from home “where possible”.
A quarter of teachers and leaders said in a recent Teacher Tapp survey that somebody in their direct household is considered high-risk if they contract COVID-19.
Those considered by the government to be in the most vulnerable health groups include solid organ transplant recipients, people with specific cancers and those with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
They also include people with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism, those on immunosuppression therapies and pregnant women “with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired”.
The guidance echoes advice circulated by education unions, which states that staff with health conditions that make them vulnerable to being badly affected if they catch the virus, and those who live with someone in the most vulnerable health groups, “should not be included on staff rotas for working in school”.
The government has said that it expects school staff working from home “to continue to support the education of pupils, and wider work of the school, in appropriate ways agreed with their school leadership team”.
However, school leaders “should be mindful of staff wellbeing and practical circumstances when designing these arrangements”, the guidance states.
Schools should sort out their own term-time only contract issues
Schools are also being told to sort out their own arrangements with support staff on term-time only contracts if they want them to work over Easter.
Settings have been told they should stay open over the break “where possible” to continue to look after vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
However, the approach has led to questions about whether there will be enough support staff, many of whom are only paid during term time.
In its guidance, the DfE said school leaders “should discuss and agree any new working arrangements with individual support staff affected, and ensure that they have regard for contracts of employment”.
Schools facing difficulties in staying open over Easter should contact their council or multi-academy trust.
School ‘hubs’ permitted, but must enable social distancing
The DfE has also added guidance on the use of school “hubs” or “clusters”, whereby some schools stay open and take pupils and staff from surrounding schools that close.
The department said it is “understands that shared provision through multi-school or early years hubs and clusters is an option being considered in some areas. In some cases, arrangements are already in place”.
However, there are “issues to balance when making choices about provision at this time”, the DfE guidance warns.
“Any arrangements should enable staff and children to follow social distancing guidance and limit other risks relating to the spread of the virus. We recognise that this is a particular challenge in some settings.
“Alongside this, issues such as safeguarding and consistency of provision for pupils with SEND should also be considered. Additionally, in the current circumstances there will be practicalities to consider, including how children and teachers access settings while limiting travel.”
The DfE is “working through these points with schools, early years settings, local authorities, trusts and other stakeholders” and intends to publish further guidance “after Easter”.