Coronavirus: Unions report academy trust to health and safety watchdog over 'unsafe' return of pupils

One of England’s largest academy trusts has been reported to the Health and Safety Executive over allegations it put employees and pupils at “serious and imminent risk” by allowing more pupils to return too early.

The David Ross Education Trust (DRET) has also been accused of failing to inform staff at one of its schools that an employee had become infected with Covid-19.

We are now left with no alternative as a result of the trust’s decision to go ahead with an unsafe increase in pupil numbers

Unison and the GMB, which represent support staff, claim the trust proceeded with an “unsafe increase in pupil numbers” yesterday.

In a letter sent to the HSE today, the unions called for an investigation into “failings…which we believe have placed the health and safety of pupils and staff at serious and imminent risk”.

DRET’s primary schools reopened to reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils yesterday, and the trust said they did so “without any issues, having followed all government guidance”.

But the unions say the trust left “insufficient time to consult with staff” over the return.

It comes amid growing tensions between unions and academy trusts over approaches to reopening.

The Astrea Academy Trust has pushed back opening six schools in south Yorkshire following pressure from unions and public health announcements for Sheffield and Doncaster.

Sir Jon Coles, chief executive of the country’s largest trust United Learning, has also said union advice to its members over reopening is “counter-productive”.

The unions claim DRET failed to provide evidence of consultation with staff on risk assessments ahead of yesterday’s wider opening.

They also claim the trust only provided a risk assessment template to them on May 27, and the template was then amended on May 29, “which raises the question of how staff could have been informed, consulted and trained on the [risk assessment] prior to the increase in pupil numbers on Monday June 1”.

They have also accused the chain of failing to inform all staff at Charnwood College in Loughborough, that an employee of the school was infected with the disease.

According to the unions, they were only informed about the case when they raised rumours of a separate case at another of DRET’s schools, Malcolm Arnold in Northampton.

A spokesperson for the DRET said the safety of children and our staff “always has been, and always will be, our top priority”.

“We are confident that the risk assessments we carried out for each of our schools are robust and rigorous, and our primaries that re-opened yesterday all did so without any issues, having followed all government guidance.

“We have worked hard to share all information with the unions throughout this process, including details of our approach to re-opening, and will continue to seek to engage with them.”

The NASUWT teaching union has called on government to “urgently” task the HSE with providing guidance to schools about the safety of reopening to more pupils.

In response, the HSE said it was “very much seeking to support a safe return to work across all industries, including assisting school employers to implement effective practical measures to manage coronavirus risk”.

Schools Week approached the HSE for comment on the DRET letter.