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Latest Covid-19 News from our Branch and Regionally

UNISON South West Help Hub

Got a coronavirus issue you need to talk to us about? Self isolating and need to know your rights? Want to ask a question?

E-mail us or send us a message on Facebook and you’ll be put in touch with a UNISON organiser.

Coronavirus Official Guidance

Back to school in September?

Staffing, safety and vulnerable children must be priority for schools’ return, says UNISON

Responding to plans published last Thursday by the government for the full return of schools from September, UNISON head of education Jon Richards said:

“Everyone wants all children to return to the classroom as soon as possible. There are still issues, though, around staffing and safety.

“Test and trace must get a whole lot better for social distancing to be reduced and large pupil ‘bubbles’ to become the norm. Otherwise whole year groups would have to isolate when a child gets ill.

“There also must be guarantees teaching assistants don’t become permanent substitute teachers.

“Some have been filling in gaps left by staff going sick with Covid-19 or shielding. But this can’t be the case long term – teaching assistants aren’t trained as teachers, nor paid to do their jobs.

“Vulnerable pupils and those with special educational needs should be a priority. Staff want to get back working with these children, but social distancing is a challenge.

“Risk assessments are vital to ensure staff are protected from infection. Yet the government has largely ruled out using personal protective equipment.

“Telling schools just to get on with it isn’t the way forward. Instead, ministers must work with school staff and unions to agree safe ways of getting pupils back to the classroom.”

UNISON have now produced a detailed briefing on the guidance, setting our specific concerns and the issues we will continue to campaign on and raise with government. We hope that it proves useful in summarising some of the key points of the guidance and in establishing our union’s position on the government’s plans as they stand.
Government guidance
UNISON’s detailed briefing
UNISON has always been clear that we want to see a full return to schools as soon as possible, but that the safety of pupils, parents, staff and our communities must not be sacrificed by government.
The final guidance leaves many questions unanswered and will put huge pressure on schools and school leaders to make the decisions that the government have dodged.

UNISON is particularly concerned that the test and trace system is not currently fit for purpose and needs to be urgently improved in time for September.

Over the coming vital weeks UNISON will:

  • Work with the other unions to try to get the government to make improvements to the guidance and make a plan B in case of more local lockdowns
  • Produce joint union checklists for early years, special schools, mainstream schools and FE. These will be for branches, school reps and members to use when working with schools to produce updated risk assessments for opening in September and will include the key changes we will be seeking to the guidance
  • Push for changes and improvements to the test and trace system to ensure it is fit for purpose
  • Campaign for additional funding and resources for schools to deal with increased work and the need for more staff
  • Campaign for additional support for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils

Please keep an eye on our website for further updates.

Don’t get caught out by Quarantine

Don’t get caught out by Quarantine

As lock-down eases and hopes of a semblance of normality rise no doubt many of you are thinking about your holiday. Some of you may have longstanding bookings and are hoping either to travel or to get a cancellation and refund.

You may not all have realised the implications of government regulations that you

  • need to provide journey and contact details to your employer when you travel/ return to the UK
  • are not allowed to leave the place you are staying for the first 14 days you are in/ return to the UK

UNISON can’t tell you what do do about your holiday but we wanted to make sure that people were aware of the issues as soon as possible and encourage people to have a conversation with their management early. There is guidance that will certainly apply to all NHS and local government sector employees that should ensure equitable treatment but leaving it until the last minute is where we anticipate members might run into problems. So ACT NOW

There is always Croyde Bay

Infromation below taken from NHS employers guidance full text here https://www.nhsemployers.org/covid19/staff-terms-and-conditions/quarantine-and-self-isolation-on-entering-or-returning-to-the-uk

NJC Local Government guidance can be found here http://msgfocus.com/files/amf_unison/project_131/NJC_Circ_Coronavirus_and_Quarantine_05Jun20.pdf

Currently, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice on travel abroad is that people should not do so unless it is essential and there are new rules in place for entering the UK because of COVID-19 from Monday 8 June . The rules apply to residents and visitors although there is a list of exceptions.

All requests for annual leave need to be submitted to the manager for approval in any event and it may still be possible to go. Managers must consider:

  • the impact of the request on maintaining service delivery
  • the need for employees who may have worked hard throughout the crisis to have time for rest and recuperation.

There is instruction to managers to be sympathetic.

Options to consider for how the quarantine period could be treated may include:

  • The use of appropriate paid or unpaid leave to cover the quarantine period e.g.
    – take additional paid annual leave (from their usual leave allowance)
    – take unpaid annual leave
    – take special leave (paid/unpaid)
  • whether the employee is able to work from home
  • making up some or all of the 14 days’ leave over a period of time through working additional hours/shifts over their normal contracted hours.
  • where unable to work from home whether temporary reassignment of appropriate work would be possible so that they could work from home.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this issue so for those employees who cannot work from home during quarantine, employers should consider using a combination of some or all of the different types of leave options shown above and give sympathetic consideration to certain circumstances which could include:

  • an employee who has extenuating circumstances such as a family funeral abroad
  • pre-booked holidays that cannot be cancelled without incurring financial cost (ie insurers will not reimburse cost) that were arranged before quarantine could have been envisaged
  • pre-booked holidays that the tour operator has not cancelled but has instead rescheduled on fixed dates which, if cancelled by the customer, would be at financial cost to them.

Please note, anyone who has had to travel for the purpose of their job, and has to quarantine on their return, would be entitled to continue to receive normal full pay.

Stay Safe at School

Schools Update
Here is a summary of the advice for members in schools that UNISON issued on Thursday 28 May, which you should have received by email, we will be holding an online webinar aimed at UNISON members and activists in schools to discuss risk assessments, vulnerable staff and how to raise issues with your head teacher. The webinar will be held at 6pm on Wednesday 17 June. 
Register for the schools webinar
There are various useful resources on these topics, which are accessible to all members:
The ‘Risk Assessment Flow Chart’ explains the process those with concerns should follow, depending on the contents of your school’s Risk Assessment.
Download the Risk Assessment Flow Chart
The ‘Health and Safety Checklist’ details the steps to take if you have identified a hazard in your workplace to escalate your concerns.
Download the Health and Safety Checklist
You can also find a number of good health and safety resources at the Working Safely page on the UNISON website, which is regularly being updated with new resources and information.
See more H&S resources
Please also continue to look at the Schools Page on the UNISON website for the latest schools specific resources, information and advice.

Covid-19 latest schools advice and guidance 

Latest update following meeting of National Schools Committee 
Government proposals to increase school and early years pupil numbers from 1 June 

UNISON’s ​National Schools Committee met on Thursday 14 May and agreed that the union should continue to oppose the government’s unsafe proposal to increase pupil numbers from 1 June. The Committee was a little encouraged to hear that at a meeting earlier that day, Department for Education (DfE) officials were keen to stress that the 1 June date was ‘aspirational’ and that the guidance being provided was ‘non-statutory’.

Nonetheless the Committee expressed strong concerns around the following issues:

  • Virus transmission – failure of the government to provide clear evidence around the transmission risk from pupils and staff.
  • Social distancing – the impossibility of maintaining social distancing in schools and nurseries because of the year groups chosen to go back first, and the significant increase in numbers this would bring in some schools. The government recognises this yet is still moving on regardless.
  • PPE – the government’s guidance to schools on PPE is wholly insufficient.
  • Testing, tracing and isolation – failure of the government to roll out a comprehensive strategy before any increase in pupil numbers.
  • Travel – increased risks posed by pupils and staff travelling on public transport and when parents drop off or collect their children.
  • Redeployment – concerns that DfE guidance will be interpreted to mean that schools can deploy support staff to do jobs they are not qualified to perform, protected to do or paid to undertake. Examples include using support staff other than cleaners to undertake cleaning duties and teaching assistants to take classes where they are not qualified or paid to do so. Schools must ensure that support staff are not required to routinely cover for teacher absence or lead classes. UNISON will not support any use of staff to support teaching in an inappropriate or un-agreed way.
  • Cleaning – Schools and nurseries will need clear plans about how they will enable the additional cleaning required by government guidance. Additional staff and cleaning materials will be required before settings will be safe to open. Staff undertaking additional cleaning must be paid for these extra hours, including overtime premiums where appropriate.
  • Early years – The government has acknowledged that it is not possible to apply social distancing among these children and unless adequate precautions are in place, staff and children in these setting will be placed at risk. UNISON believes that all nurseries must undertake risk assessments and have adequate measures in place to ensure safe re-opening before 1 June.

It was agreed therefore that UNISON would continue to work with the other TUC education unions to protect pupils and staff by continuing to campaign for schools and nurseries to only open when proved safe to do so. Further, that branches could begin to work with employers on the understanding that 1 June is not possible and that more time is needed.

Support for members

To support members during this difficult time the Committee agreed to take the following steps:

  • Produce model letters for members and branches to send to employers / head teachers, so that staff should not be pressurised to return by their employers until it is safe and that plans are agreed with unions. Please note that new DfE guidance states that it expects schools and trusts to “work closely with parents, staff and unions…when agreeing the best approaches for their circumstances”.
  • Produce a model Covid Secure risk assessment / checklist with other unions to support local discussions – Coronavirus Workplace checklist
  • Make it clear that members have rights to be safe at work and protect themselves under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Please see the advice under ‘What if I don’t feel my workplace is safe’ on the UNISON website.
  • Encourage education unions to work together locally as well as nationally to agree plans.
  • Call on the government to provide sufficient funding to wipe out past debts and for additional staffing that may be required.
  • Call on schools to approach local authorities about having framework agreements covering both LA and academy schools.
  • Call on the government for clear strategies for safeguarding the most vulnerable pupils and staff, including those who have an underlying condition, are pregnant, over 70 or in the shielded group, and those who live with (or care for) anyone in these categories. These pupils and staff should be allowed to self-isolate or work from home as per NJC guidance.

Please keep an eye on the UNISON website and Facebook page for more information.

Survey of school staff on government plans – reminder
A reminder that we are carrying out a survey of members’ views on the government’s proposals for schools. We emailed it to members where we have permission to do so yesterday (12 May), but you may wish to forward the link onto your networks:


The survey will run till Monday 18 May.

Is it safe to go back to school?

Is it safe to go back to school?

The guidance for schools has been released by government

Planning guide for primary schools: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-schools-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-primary-schools

UNISON branch guidance is reproduced here http://www.plymouthinunison.org.uk/covid-19-latest-schools-advice-and-guidance/

It includes a checklist for assessing the risk assessments you may get from your school and a model letter to send to your head

Advice for members on engagement 

The message to members is – if employers ask members about re-opening on 1st June they are to attend any meetings but maintain that there are safety concerns that need addressing.

These will include;

  • The absence of a national test and trace scheme. Can your school deal with this locally?
  • How will vulnerable staff be protected?
  • Lack of resources for enhanced school cleaning and PPE
  • Does your school have autonomy to close schools where new covid-19 cases appear on campus?

We are aware that some employers are pressuring individuals to start the planning process. The model letters for members includes the following statement they can use in responding to their employer:

“I understand that the school has a duty to plan and my issue is not with the school rather with the government rushing ahead with an unsafe increase in pupil numbers from 1 June. Therefore I would like it to be formally noted that my involvement in any meetings and discussions will be on the basis of a sharing of information only, and not my agreement to an unsafe reopening from 1 June. I would further request that you enter into collective discussion with my union on the measures that need to be taken for a safe increase in pupil numbers, as stated by the DfE. I call on the school not to put pupils and staff at risk by an unsafe increase in numbers from 1 June.”

Download the model letter for members

What if I don’t feel my workplace is safe?

UNISON believes that our members should never be in a situation where they might endanger themselves and others in the course of doing jobs.

Putting you in that situation is potentially a breach of health and safety law and may spread coronavirus to people in high-risk groups.

Before you return to the classroom/start dealing with new cohorts of children make sure you have had sight of the risk assessment and instructions for safe systems of working so you know if what is happening in practice is what was envisaged.

Raise concerns with school managers either directly or via your UNISON rep.

As a last resort, when faced with a dangerous working environment which cannot quickly be solved, every employee has the right to leave, or refuse to attend their place of work (or take other appropriate steps) without suffering detriment (section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996).

The context of a situation will be key on whether refusing to return to work or any other steps are appropriate.  This means that an employee cannot automatically refuse a reasonable instruction to return to work without a good reason. It applies in circumstances where they reasonably believe there is a risk of being exposed to serious and imminent danger. For example; if somebody apparently suffering with Covid19 symptoms is attending the workplace, or if the social distancing measures cannot be applied in practice.

If you feel you are being put at risk it is crucial to get advice and discuss the situation with your Plymouth in UNISON representative. Contact your branch or if needed you can seek advice from our regional office or legal team.



There for You the charity for UNISON members is here to help UNISON members get the practical and financial support they need.  Despite the current difficulties, we remain open and are here to help in any way that we can.

Currently all staff are working from home and we continue to respond to requests for help and are processing applications as quickly as possible.  Other than if there’s no alternative, please don’t send applications through the post as we’re only receiving mail once a week.

Our general enquiry line remains open alternatively, you can send an email.  Just leave a message and one of our Support Team we’ll get back to you within 1 working day.

Email: thereforyou@unison.co.uk

Call: 020 7121 5620

We are already receiving applications from members who are in financial difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus. In some cases, this has sadly meant providing support to those who have lost loved ones – including help with funeral costs.

CoVid19 Response Fund

For many of our members, work and household income has suddenly changed overnight.  Whether as a result of ill-health, loss of income or increased work-related costs, many will be feeling anxious about how they will make ends meet, pay household bills and put food on the table.

We want members to know that we are here to help in whatever way we can and is why we’ve established a special CoVid19 Response Fund.  This new hardship fund will help ease the immediate financial pressures faced by members including those who have become more vulnerable by providing an immediate grant of £250 to help with essentials.


To be eligible for a COVID-19 grant the following must apply either to the member and/or their partner:

  • Suffered a reduction in earnings as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis which has put them in financial difficulty (this could be linked to work or health related reasons) and/or
  • Member and/or partner is a key worker with increased work-related costs as a result of the crisis, e.g. transport, care, or laundry costs.


  • Be a UNISON member with at least 4 weeks membership and have paid their subscriptions;
  • Have savings of less than £800
  • Be applying for or in receipt of any statutory help that they may be entitled to.

How members apply

Members in financial difficulty can apply direct by completing a simple online application form and attaching some supporting documents which will help us reach a quick decision.

For all the details and, the application form itself go to: CoVid19ResponseFund

Other important information

By way of a reminder, please also note that we have introduced a streamlined version of our main financial assistance application form which members can now complete electronically.  We are actively encouraging members to use the electronic form where possible as this will result in us receiving the application sooner.  Members can apply without going through the branch – something that may be helpful if you are a key worker or other reasons make it difficult to have contact with members.

For further information go to: https://www.unison.org.uk/get-help/services-support/there-for-you/financial-assistance/ and then scroll down to the section on ‘Financial Assistance

Thank you to everyone. We really do appreciate all that you’re doing during these difficult times.

Stay healthy, stay safe, stay tuned for more information.

Julie Grant

Head of There for You

Web: www.unison.org.uk/thereforyou

Address: UNISON There for you, 130 Euston Road, London, NW1 2AY

‘There for you’ is the working name of UNISON Welfare a charity registered in England and Wales 1023552 and Scotland 38305

Prime Minister’s plan to increase pupil numbers in schools before they are safe – urgent advice for members

You will no doubt have heard the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday that the government intends to increase the number of children attending early years settings and primary schools in England from 1 June.

At UNISON we have always been clear that we want to work with government on the issue of schools opening to more pupils. However we firmly believe schools should only increase numbers when it is safe to do so for pupils, parents and staff. Any plan to reopen schools needs to address a range of issues including PPE, testing, tracing, isolation and social distancing. Government has to date failed to deliver on these vital safety measures.

The devolved nations have decided that it is not currently safe to increase numbers in schools, so why is the UK government being so cavalier with the lives and wellbeing of pupils and staff in England?

We are calling for a meeting with the government to work out a safe plan for getting staff back to work safely. So we are advising members not to engage with planning for a return to school from 1 June just yet. But keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for urgent updates.

Please be assured this is about putting pressure on the government, not your individual school.

Can you take a couple of minutes to tell us what you think?
Whatever type of school setting you work in, your answers will help us put pressure on government to hit the brakes until there’s a proper plan in place.

You’re the experts on what works in schools and you need to be heard.

Take the survey


Education unions’ statement on the safe reopening of schools 

Today’s statement follows a longer statement to the Secretary of State on Friday (8 May), which set out in full detail the principles and tests necessary for the safe reopening of schools. It is signed by AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

“We all want schools to re-open, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so. The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.

“Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules. 15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of 4 and 5-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread.  While we know that children generally have mild symptoms, we do not know enough about whether they can transmit the disease to adults. We do not think that the government should be posing this level of risk to our society.

“We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.”

Our key safety tests
Along with the other education unions, we have written to the Education Secretary outlining the key tests we believe must be met before schools in England can be safely reopened. They include:

  • No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a test and trace scheme
  • A joint taskforce to agree statutory guidance
  • Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families
  • Additional resources for enhanced cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
  • Local autonomy to close schools where testing finds clusters of new cases
COVID19 Latest Information

COVID19 Latest Information

I know you are all worried.

So are we all, but UNISON members are also key players in managing this crisis, providing as we do vital public services including being the biggest union in the NHS and local government, and that is a comfort to me at least.

So much of the advice we have been given by Government is woolly and that has been reflected in some of things done and said by employers. UNISON nationally and Plymouth in UNISON locally is working on making that advice clearer and better and we will continue to do so throughout this crisis.

Of course we don’t have all the answers but we are dealing with lots of queries and helping lots of members with individual problems as they arise.

We are also attending to the broad trade union mission to ensure that everybody is kept as safe at work as possible and suffer no financial detriment if they cannot work.

The national UNISON website has up to date advice so mostly I will refer you to it directly in order that this page keeps pace with developments https://www.unison.org.uk/coronavirus-rights-work/

Many of our members work in schools and they can find information here https://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/education-services/key-issues/covid-19-closures/

Many more work in the NHS here is a link for you https://www.unison.org.uk/at-work/health-care/big-issues/covid-19-advice-health-workers/

And here is further guidance on PPE etc. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control

We have already been involved in discussions with employers about things like offering home working to staff with childcare needs and with staff in schools about payment for additional hours if their school opens to the children of key workers during holidays



COVID19 Latest Information

Coronavirus and Schools

Re: Covid-19 FAQs for school staff (England)

Please find attached FAQs for school staff in England. They cover:

  • Operational issues
  • Pay
  • Easter and weekend working
  • Health and safety
  • Home working
Covid-19 FAQs for school support-staff – England
The FAQs can also be downloaded from the resources section on the UNISON website on our main page for all the latest Covid-19 information for school support staff:


And here is the government guidance


We have been made aware of a small number of instances where schools have been closed due to a potential risk of exposure to the Coronavirus (COVID19) and where school cleaners were told to do a ‘deep clean’ of the schools. (None of these in Plymouth as yet)

UNISON regions have rightly intervened to stop our members being put at potential risk. If any instances like this occur elsewhere we need to intervene to ensure schools do the following:

  1. Conduct full risk assessments
  2. Contact the Local Health Protection Team for advice and support
  3. Ensure only those fully trained and equipped with the relevant protective equipment are involved in any deep clean.  A specialist cleaning team my have to be established
  4. Provide the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including appropriate face masks for those responsible for decontaminating the school
  5. Notify all staff and keep them updated on any development
Below is a link to the Department for Education (DfE) Advice. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19#school-trips

We have made contact with DfE officials to express our concerns. https://www.gov.uk/health-protection-team