UNISON continues to work hard to support school support workers as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

Wales specific updates will be placed on this page and we will also continue to provide up-to-date information on our Facebook page.

UNISON survey shows most school staff members feel face coverings are an important safety measure

Results of a UNISON Cymru Wales survey on the use of face coverings in school give a clear picture that this measure helps you to feel safer in work. Over half of respondents (56% excluding ‘don’t knows’) would be worried if the recommendation for face coverings to be worn in secondary school classrooms was removed.

1250 school support staff members responded to the survey –

60.9% said that they felt safer wearing face coverings in work

56.8% felt that wearing them in secondary school settings is an important safety measure

20.4% would be very worried if face coverings were removed with a further

27.1% indicating they would be quite worried if they were removed.

Whilst appreciating that in some circumstances, wearing these all day can interfere with the ability for you to carry out your role as effectively as you would want, and that they are uncomfortable to wear for long periods as indicated in some of the comments, the overwhelming message was that members would prefer to keep this as a mitigating measure at least until the end of the summer term.

UNISON members’ contributions to this and previous surveys have helped to support our discussions with Welsh Government during the pandemic, thank you to all those who have taken the time to assist with this.

CHANGES FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SHIELDING

From 1st April the Welsh Government have paused the shielding advice for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. This link takes you to the latest Welsh government advice.

This means that you can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is Covid secure – your employer should have taken reasonable measures to minimise the risk to its employees.

We suggest that before you return, you contact your Head to find out what measures they have put in place to mitigate against any risks of catching the virus. It may be that it is possible for you to continue to work from home and you should ask your employer to consider ways this could be accommodated. Because of the nature of the work that many of you do in schools this is not going to be possible for everyone who has been shielding, but it may be that your role can be adapted so that you are not being put in any unnecessary risk whilst you are on the school premises.

A new individual Risk Assessment needs to be completed and you should also be asked to complete the All Wales Covid risk Assessment tool –link. Please make sure this is completed before your return.

If you have any concerns about your health and safety please speak to your UNISON rep at your school or alternatively contact your local branch who will be able to raise with your Head Teacher.

You can find details for local branches here

In the event of high numbers of coronavirus cases locally or nationally in Wales the advice will be considered again. If advice changes for your area, this will be communicated through local radio and television, and you will also receive a letter if you are going to be advised to follow shielding measures again.

The return of all pupils to school from Monday 12 April

The Welsh Government has issued updated guidance for the return of all pupils to school from 12th April –

The link to the operational guidance is here

Please note the measures below – 

  • Wearing of face coverings by staff in all areas of the school or setting where social distancing cannot be maintained – this includes in the classroom and a higher grade 3 layer face covering will be provided, as recommended by WHO  – medical grade face masks should be worn when providing intimate care or when dealing with a suspected case of covid 19
  • Risk assessments – all risk assessments to be reviewed to suit the current circumstances and supporting checklist –  you should ask to see a copy of this new updated risk assessment.
  • Availability of twice weekly home testing for all staff in schools and educational settings
  • For members who are clinically vulnerable or who live with someone who is, personal circumstances need to be discussed with your employer to see if it is possible for you to work from home.
  • Members working in early years settings should remain in one bubble and not cross bubbles unless under exceptional circumstances. The specific reference in the guidance to this in section 5 states:

Staff responsible for younger learners should remain with set contact groups. Only under exceptional circumstances should staff interchange between different groups. All staff should adhere to the social/physical distancing measures as far as possible; however, we recognise that when working with younger learners this may not always be possible. In these circumstances high quality 3 layer face coverings may be worn by staff members, however, having regard to the needs of the learning will be important and a specific risk assessment may be required.

  • For those who are employed to cover PPA, discussions on alternative duties need to be undertaken with your Head so that you are not being put in the position of having to cross bubbles. Please contact your branch if you are being asked to do this as a matter of course. Exceptional circumstances mean just that, so you should not be asked to do this unless there is an urgent need for you to do so.
  • An additional £5million funding can be used to employ staff or fund additional hours to avoid staff moving between bubbles.
  • Bubbles should be no larger than a class size.
  • An updated FAQ section including myth busting information is being provided by Welsh Government to support families, staff in schools and the wider community to help understand these measures.

As you will be aware, UNISON is calling for all school staff to be included as a priority in the next phase of the vaccination programme and we continue to raise this with Welsh Government at every opportunity.

The next phase of wider opening is continuing to be discussed with Welsh Government.  Any decisions will of course be based on the medical and scientific advice to support this and evidence from this period of wider face to face learning for foundation phase. Your experiences during this time are very helpful in shaping our responses, so please continue to share with us.

Please be assured that your health and well being is prioritised throughout our negotiations and please continue to take care and stay safe.

 

Covid-19 and Education – Science and Public Health Evidence

At meetings with Welsh Government, UNISON have continually stressed that communications need to be made clear and that the science and public health evidence that the government rely on to shape their decisions should be shared. As a result please see the first bulletin that holds a whole range of information regarding the science and public health evidence in education in Wales. 

 

Read Education Minister, Kirsty Williams’ open letter to headteachers issued on 5.2.21

Routine testing for education and childcare staff 

Welsh Government has announced that daily contact testing in schools and colleges is now being paused.

Instead,  regular, twice weekly, Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) will be offered to all staff in all registered childcare settings including Flying Start settings, schools and further education settings when Foundation phase pupils return after the February half term.

Read the Welsh Government GUIDANCE on Routine testing for education and childcare staff here.

For those in education or childcare settings: if you are symptomatic and experiencing significant barriers in accessing a test via the online booking portal, you can access a test through the Local Health Board Community Testing Units (details of how to access these tests differ depending on the area you are in); information is via this link.

Wellbeing 

Read the Workload Charter for schools staff, endorsed by the education unions.

Welsh Government has commissioned Education Support to undertake a project to support the well-being of the education workforce in Wales as part of the whole school approach towards well-being.

A wellbeing advisor will be appointed to support up to 100 schools across Wales providing services including resilience training and sharing best practice. The charity will also create wellbeing and resource content for HwB and a specific Welsh section on the Education Support website.

Keep up-to-date

We know this is an uncertain time, but UNISON is there for you. You can get updates and network with other school support staff via our Facebook page.

And we cannot emphasise enough, if you have any concerns about your health, safety or wellbeing at work, please contact your for further advice and support.

Courses

Whilst you are visiting our page, we thought you might be interested to learn about some courses from UNISON for members working in schools.

These courses are FREE for anyone living/working in Wales in the schools sector!

School Support Staff e-learning pathway

https://cymru-wales.unison.org.uk/learning/elfypathways

Links

Read the updated Welsh Government advice: Health and well-being for school staff and learners: coronavirus>

Don’t forget you can stay up-to-date with our UNISON Cymru Wales school support staff Face Book page>