1.COVID Health Advice
Staff, or a member of their household, have tested positive or are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and have been advised to self-isolate. What do I do as a Principal/Line Manager?
Principals have the support of the PHA and dedicated EA services:
- Education Authority emergency helpline for schools who require advice and support where a positive COVID-19 case is identified in a school: 028 9041 8056
- A dedicated Education Authority email address has been established: email@example.com
Public Health Agency has established a dedicated phone line to assist schools when there has been a positive (confirmed) test for coronavirus(COVID-19) in an educational setting. This phone line is operational from 11 September and will be available from 8am to 5pm, 7 days a week. The phone number is 028 95360484. The phone line will be staffed by specialist public health staff who will support you through the risk assessment process and provide guidance on next steps when a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the school. It is not a general helpline and your first port of call for general advice where there has been no confirmed case continues to be the COVID19 School Guidance available on the DE website.
When speaking to the PHA a principal can request in writing advice that has been given by the PHA advisor and if a principal wishes to seek further guidance they can request to speak to the on call consultant in line with the guidance received from the PHA to INTO(pdf)“Should a school principal have a question or concern about the advice being provided by PHA’s school team, they should raise this with the call handler who can escalate this to the consultant in charge who will discuss further with the principal” “The team is supervised by a Consultant in Public Health Medicine who is available to provide further advice and guidance on the management of unusual or complex scenarios.”
Staff in these circumstances must not attend school and should stay at home as advised and follow the latest Government stay at home guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. This is paid leave schools should use the CV code for NISTR.
Staff in this category and their families should have a test undertaken to establish if they have COVID-19.
Principals/line managers will inform staff on the arrangements for testing – testing is available for them or a member of their household (whoever is displaying the symptoms). To self-refer staff can use the online booking system:
Contact can also be made by phoning 119.
It is important that Principals/line managers are fully aware of staff within their school who are self-isolating at any time.
Principals should contact their Link Officer and update them on the school situation to discuss additional support and guidance.
It is important that potential clusters of cases are identified early so immediate steps can be taken to prevent spread. If two or more children and/or staff are tested positive for COVID-19 within a 14 day period, the Principal or person in charge of the setting must contact the Public Health Agency (PHA). A clinical risk assessment will be undertaken by the PHA duty officer. The PHA duty room officer will advise you of what further action to take.
There is an expectation that an enhanced cleaning of areas identified in which an individual who has developed a confirmed case of COVID 19 is carried out. The Education Authority Cleaning Service can be contacted on 028 9041 8057
For other Education Restart queries, the Education Authority’s Education Restart Helpline continues to be available on 028 3836 8186.
As a member of staff I (or a member of my household) have tested positive or are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and have been advised to self-isolate. What do I do?
Staff in these circumstances must not attend school and should stay at home as advised and follow the latest Government stay at home guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. You should inform your Principal and state clearly whether you have either tested positive or that a member of your household has tested positive and you are following guidance to self-isolate or that you or a member of your household is displaying symptoms and awaiting a test. Staff in this category and their families should have a test, if they have not already, to establish if they have COVID-19.
Staff who are displaying symptoms have a duty of care to themselves and others so therefore must be tested.
Anyone who tests positive will be contacted by the Contact Tracing Service in the Public Health Agency and will need to share information about their recent interactions. All household members should follow PHA isolation guidance which currently requires everyone in the house to stay at home.
If you receive a negative diagnosis for COVID-19 you can stop self-isolating as long as:
- everyone you live with who has symptoms of COVID-19 has tested negative – you need to keep self-isolating if someone in your household tests positive, or develops symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been tested;
- you feel well enough, and have not had a raised temperature for more than 48 hours;
- you are not a close contact of a confirmed case.
If you develop new or worsening symptoms, you should self-isolate and can arrange to be re-tested.
Staff or pupils who have been part of the same ‘bubble’ as anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, must likewise follow PHA guidance and self-isolate and undertake a test under the Test and Trace and Protect system.
PHA COVID 19 Information for schools has detailed FAQs https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus/information-schools-colleges-and-universities/covid-19-information-schools-and
DE have produce flowcharts for the management of a COVID positive case in school https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/Management%20of%20Covid-19%20Positive%20Case%20in%20a%20School%20Setting.pdf
Track and Trace will advise on the length of isolation: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-and-contact-tracing
Step 1: alert
You will be alerted by the PHA if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will come by a phone call from the PHA, the number may come up as ‘withheld’.
Step 2: isolate
As a close contact you will be asked to self-isolate for up to 10 days, depending on when you last came into contact with the person. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell. This will be crucial to avoid you unknowingly spreading the virus to others. If you have no symptoms, your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene
Step 3: test if needed
As a close contact if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household should self-isolate at home and you should book a coronavirus test or call 119 if you have no internet access.
If your test is positive you are then a case of infection and you must continue to self-isolate for a further 10 days.
If your test is negative, you must still complete the full self-isolation period for close contacts which is 10 days.
What if a member of staff and/or pupil has tested positive in a cohort that is not operating as a “bubble”?
All staff and pupils who have been in direct contact with the individual must follow the PHA guidance.
“Contact tracing is a method to help prevent the further spread of infections such as COVID-19. It works by identifying a confirmed case, contacting them by telephone and asking them who they have been in contact with.
To be considered at risk you will have to have been in close contact with a confirmed case and have spent more than 15 minutes (the ‘15 minute rule’) with them without any personal protection (see sections on how test, trace and protect works).
The person with a confirmed infection and their close contacts will be given advice on what to do about managing symptoms and of the need to self-isolate to prevent any wider spread of the virus.
INTO advises that to aid Track & Trace records of attendance of groups in school should be kept, this includes all staff who have supported each group of pupils.”
Staff must be sent home immediately and advised to follow the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
INTO advises that to aid Track & Trace records of attendance of groups in school should be kept, this includes all staff who have supported each group of pupils and if necessary passed onto the PHA.
Flowchart for management of COVID positive cases https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/Management%20of%20Covid-19%20Positive%20Case%20in%20a%20School%20Setting.pdf
Follow your schools guidance/risk assessment of steps to follow. These should include:
- Inform Senior Management.
- Parents should be contacted to collect the pupil.
- Social distancing guidance should be adhered to at all times.
Appropriate adult supervision with PPE will be required to look after the pupil.
The school should undertake a risk assessment to assess impact for other pupils and staff.
If the child is seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk, call 999. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.
4.Isolation is a routine public health practice used to protect the general public and school population by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease. Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
5.A child awaiting collection should be protectively isolated and moved, if possible, to a room where they can be quarantined behind a closed door(for example a school first aid room). In addition:
·Schools should be mindful of appropriate safeguards to ensure that students are isolated in a non-threatening manner, within the line of sight of adults, and for very short periods of time.
·Appropriate adult supervision must be provided at all times.
·The room should have adequate ventilation and, where windows facilitate being opened, they should be opened to increase air circulation.
·If it is not possible to fully isolate the child in a separate room, as a protective measure for them and others, they should be moved to an area which is at least 2m away from other people.
·Schools should actively plan for this eventuality and a risk assessment should be undertaken to address this.
Schools must fully document this process to ensure a record is held of who made the decision, where isolation occurred, who was contacted, who provided supervision and who picked up the child.
·If the child needs to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should use a separate bathroom if possible. The bathroom should be cleaned and disinfected before being used by anyone else.
·PPE should be worn by staff caring for the child while they await collection if direct personal care is needed and a distance of 2m cannot be maintained (such as for a very young child or a child with complex needs).
·If the child is seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk, call 999. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.
6.If a member of staff (who was wearing the appropriate PPE and adhering to the social distancing guidelines) has helped someone with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature or loss of taste/smell, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. PPE will only exempt an individual from being a close contact if disposable gloves, disposable apron, surgical mask +/-eye protection is worn and if the individual was trained in appropriate donning and doffing of said PPE. If there has been any breeches in PPE or if there has been direct skin to skin contact and the child returns a positive COVID-19 test, then the staff member will be identified as a close contact and will be required to self-isolate.
7.They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who has developed symptoms. Cleaning the affected area with available cleaning products, followed by disinfection after someone with symptoms has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.
What if a pupil starts showing symptoms of COVID-19 in school and I as a member of staff helped deal with the pupil? Should I self-isolate?
If a member of staff (who was wearing the appropriate PPE and adhering to the social distancing guidelines) has helped someone with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature or loss of taste/smell, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. PPE will only exempt an individual from being a close contact if disposable gloves, disposable apron, surgical mask +/-eye protection is worn and if the individual was trained in appropriate donning and doffing of said PPE. If there has been any breeches in PPE or if there has been direct skin to skin contact and the child returns a positive COVID-19 test, then the staff member will be identified as a close contact and will be required to self-isolate.
They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who has developed symptoms. Cleaning the affected area with available cleaning products, followed by disinfection after someone with symptoms has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.
What is the advice to staff who are considered, “Clinically Vulnerable,” due to an underlying health condition, aged over 70, or pregnant?
Clinically vulnerable individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions as set out in the NI Government website Click here for more information) have been advised to take extra care in observing social distancing and should work from home where possible.
This includes pregnant women.
Principals/line managers should endeavour to support this, where possible, for example by asking staff to support remote education, carry out lesson planning or other roles which can be done from home.
If clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home they should take extra care in the work place observing social distancing, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, although the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for this distance if they prefer to do so.
If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, Principals/line managers should undertake a risk assessment with the individual to assess and control measures to reduce risk.
The employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments. They should, if necessary, be offered the safest available on-site roles.
What is the advice to staff who are considered, “Clinically Extremely Vulnerable,” as per PHA guidance?
There is an onus on employing authorities and managers to take extra measures to support our most vulnerable staff to self-isolate or engage in social distancing as appropriate. From 26 December 2020, clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people who are working and are unable to do so from home have been advised not to attend the workplace. The CEV employee will receive normal pay. Teachers are free to make their own judgements about whether or not they should attend work, depending on the COVID-security of their working environment. However, the general restrictions which apply to everyone must be followed. The Chief Medical Officer has written to CEV people to advise of this change. Staff members can use the CMO letter as evidence for their employer as was the case when shielding was first introduced at the start of the pandemic.
Should a CEV staff member wish to remain in the work place, Principals/line managers should undertake a risk assessment with the individual to assess. In many cases the risk assessment and subsequent control measures will sufficiently reduce the risk and the staff member will be able to return to the work place if they are unable to work from home. Based on risk assessment the Principal/line manager and Employing Authority reserve the right to request that clinically extremely vulnerable staff do not attend the workplace.
The employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments
See Appendix A3 Risk Assessment template:
A member of my family/household is considered, “Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, or Clinically vulnerable” as per PHA guidance. Should I be attending Work?
Current PHA advice does not require you to self-isolate. If a member of your household falls into this category, you are able to attend work.
DE Guidance specifies that “If a member of your household is considered clinically extremely vulnerable and in receipt of a shielding pause letter, employees should follow the guidance as set out by the Government and can continue to work with suitable controls in place. Such staff should have an individual risk assessment conducted before the most appropriate course of action is determined. An employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments”
Staff should have an individual risk assessment conducted before the most appropriate course of action is determined.
Letters of support from medical practitioners involved could be sought to aid the relevance of the risk assessment.
See Appendix A1 Risk Assessment template
I have a disability and an impairment that is not on the clinically vulnerable list though does increase my risk – what support am I entitled to?
A person has a disability for the purposes of Disability Discrimination Act 1995 if they have a physical or mental impairment (including mental ill-health) which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Disability Discrimination Act: https://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Publications/Individuals/DisabilityDiscrimShortGuide2011.pdf
“People who are diagnosed with cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis are deemed to be disabled from the point of diagnosis rather than from the point when the condition has some adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”
The Act imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people to help them to remove barriers in gaining and remaining in employment.
Schools should ensure they make reasonable adjustments, as they are obliged to do, in addition to what they will have done to protect the health and safety of all of their employees. Suitable health and safety risk assessments should be carried out and adequate precautions taken. If a disabled employee previously had tailored adjustments at work, these might still adequately meet their particular needs when they return to work. However, it is important that schools are not complacent and are prepared to do more, where reasonable, recognising that individual needs change and may have changed during the pandemic. When considering reasonable adjustments HR advice is available from the Employing Authority.
As a member of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Community are my risks greater with COVID, what support should I expect from my school?
As there is some evidence which suggests that COVID-19 may impact disproportionately on some groups with underlying health conditions, notably Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities (BAME), the Employing Authorities and schools should ensure that they support positive action measures such as the Occupational Health Service (OHS) providing practical support and advice to BAME staff, particularly if they are anxious about protecting themselves and their families.
All Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff with underlying health conditions and disabilities, who are over 70 or who are pregnant should be individually risk assessed and appropriate reasonable work place adjustments should be made following risk assessment. HR advice on this matter can be sought from the Employing Authority.
See Appendix A4 Risk Assessment template.
What is expected of teachers in relation to providing work for pupils who are absent due to illness/COVID-19 or self-isolating?
Education Restart Guidance for Schools (29 Sept 2020) states that “Schools should continue to contingency plan for the delivery of remote learning in the event of local or wider school closures, or that a class or group of pupils need to self-isolate. Schools should be mindful of the impacts on teacher workloads, and take into account the guidance on teacher time budgets in TNC 2020/01”.
INTO advises members to refer to the school’s policy for remote/blended learning. Time must be allocated within the 1265hrs (32.4hrs per week) to prepare for blended learning.
The guidance continues “where a child is medically advised not to attend school from the commencement of the 2020/21 term, parent should consult their school Principal and contact EA regarding educational provision.”
It is important to recognise that a child who is unwell may not be fit enough for study.
INTO notes DE Circular 2020/05:
“the Department would recommend that all schools aim to engage with pupils on an ongoing basis through the wide range of eLearning platforms available rather than provide hard copy or emailed resources alone, if at all possible.”
Resources are available through the supported learning links on EANI website: https://www.eani.org.uk/supporting-learning
DE Circular 2020/05 “The nature of provision will vary across schools who need the flexibility to plan and provide remote learning that is suitable for their particular circumstances. This includes considering the age and learning needs of pupils, as well as the content of particular subjects or areas of learning. Remote learning for younger pupils and those who may have additional learning needs will typically need more involvement from parents, whilst some older pupils may be able to learn more independently.”
Schools and members/teachers should be sensitive and mindful of potential difficulties faced by parents in trying to ensure that their children are engaged in the work that is provided by schools. What is sent home should be an offer of work that might be useful if circumstances allow for it to be done by pupils, rather than a demand for completion.
If you are self-isolating and not displaying symptoms of COVID-19 you should report to your Principal that you are fit for work. Your Principal may direct you to continue to provide teaching through blended learning to the other pupils who are self-isolating.
Members/teachers working from home must have their own health and caring responsibilities taken into account, and the expectations of all concerned should be reflective of this.
Personal circumstances will vary and may impact on the number of hours a teacher can reasonably be expected to be engaged in preparation for and delivery of remote learning. INTO asks that schools update advice to parents on these matters to inform and manage parental/carer expectations.
Schools and members/teachers should be sensitive and mindful of potential difficulties faced by parents in trying to ensure that their children are engaged in the work that is provided by schools. What is sent home should be an offer of work that might be useful if circumstances allow for it to be done by pupils, rather than a demand for completion.
If a child is off school due to an illness then they are absent from school and work should not need to be provided. If the illness is ongoing the parent should inform the Principal and the EA to access support through their services.
The Education Restart Guidance (Sept 2020) states “All settings should be aware that where a confirmed COVID-19 case is identified within a bubble, any material that cannot be effectively cleaned will need to be quarantined for 72 hours or disposed of…..
Should a COVID-19 confirmed case occur, the EA cleaning service should be notified. Following notification the normal process is undertaken of identifying the relevant location/s within the school where any incidence of COVID-19 is likely to have happened. An enhanced clean of the location will be conducted with staff using appropriate PPE and the location can then be used again safely. A normal cleaning regime then resumes thereafter.
All cleaning must be carried out in accordance with the PHA guidance to support safe working in educational settings in Northern Ireland. It is essential that a system to confirm regular cleaning (frequency and standard) should be implemented.”
There is an expectation that an enhanced cleaning of areas identified in which an individual who has developed a confirmed case of COVID 19 is carried out. The Education Authority Cleaning Service can be contacted on 028 9041 8057
Enhanced and Terminal Cleaning are only recommended during an outbreak of COVID-19. For further detailed information read ‘COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings. COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings-GOV.UK’.
Education Restart Guidance also states (p64) “12. Enhanced cleaning should be carried out within any classroom in which an individual who has developed a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been to minimise risk of the spread of the virus. This should be clearly communicated to staff, parents and pupils to provide assurance that the environment is safe.”
If a member has a concern they should immediately raise this with the Principal. If a Principal member has a concern they should immediately raise this with the PHA, EA & their Link Officer and inform INTO at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have just found out that I was in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I do?
You should inform the principal immediately and self-isolate for 14 days. You do not need to get a test, unless you have any of the symptoms of COVID.
Where it is clear to a principal that such an individual has been:
- in a location that requires 14 days quarantine on return;
- a contact of a confirmed case; or
- is displaying clear COVID-19 symptoms;
in line with their general duty of care for all pupils and staff, the principal should inform them that they cannot attend the school until 14 days of self-isolation has been completed.
Where such an individual attends school they should be isolated in line with the above guidance on protective isolation and be sent home from the school.
This advice may be getting confused because people are getting tested because they have been a close contact of a confirmed contact but do not have any symptoms.
PLEASE NOTE: Only if a close contact develops COVID-19 symptoms (a new continuous cough, a fever/high temperature or loss of smell/taste) should they seek a test.
The advice below from the PHA, clarifies the position:
You can stop self-isolating if you have a negative test, as long as:
- you are not a close contact of a confirmed case,
- everyone you live with who has symptoms of COVID-19 has tested negative.You need to keep self-isolating if someone in your household tests positive or develops symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been tested.
- You feel well enough and have not had a raised temperature for more than 48 hours.
If you develop new or worsening symptoms, you should self-isolate and can arrange to be re-tested.
I’m pregnant and confused by the information available, are there clear steps I can follow to be confident about safety?
DE have produced a risk assessment specifically for pregnant teachers. Risks and the mitigations that you need to discuss with your principal are clearly laid out. Members should also refer to the generic risk assessment advice which explains the matrix system used. This matrix may need amended to fit individual circumstance.
There are 3 groups identified teachers less than 28 weeks pregnant, teachers 28 weeks+ and those teachers who are pregnant and also have underlying health conditions. INTO advises teachers to seek written medical information from their consultant or GP, where appropriate, to assist principals with risk assessments. This individual risk assessment
Restart Guidance (8/12/2020) p54 states “Principals/line managers should undertake a risk assessment with the individual to assess and control measures to reduce risk in addition to any existing risk assessments. The employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments.”
HSENI have also produced clear guidance, INTO advise teachers and principals to read this clear health & safety advice:
If a risk assessment identifies that a teacher should be working from home, they shall receive their normal pay in line with DE Guidance on Absence Relating to Coronavirus (8 Oct 2020) p5.
2. In School
Return to work meetings should be supportive and informative.
There is an expectation of a “re-orientation or re-introduction” for returning staff, the key focus should be on health, safety and wellbeing.
Risk assessments and school guidance relating to changes due to managing COVID-19 should also be shared. This may include individual pupil risk assessments.
Individuals should be facilitated with an individual meeting to discuss any adjustments and/or any ongoing support they may need to facilitate an effective return to the workplace. With regard to COVID-19 this may include individual risk assessments due to personal health conditions. These risk assessments are available at:
Members may also need to discuss a new working arrangement, especially if their domestic situation has changed because of the pandemic.
The key protection advice to minimise the spread of infection remains as: regular effective hand washing, good respiratory practice “catch it-bin it-kill it" and coughing into elbow, repeated cleaning of regularly touched points e.g. door handles, hand rails.
PPE falls into two categories. PPE necessary due to the risk associated with a particular task and PPE identified in individual risk assessments due to the personal health considerations of the individuals engaged in providing or receiving support and care.
PPE due to task is specified in the Guidance:
PPE is only needed in a very small number of cases. These are:-
• working with children, young people and pupils whose care routinely already involves the use of PPE, due to their intimate care needs; and
• giving children medication : INTO retains the view that members should not be administering medication to pupils.
PPE in the following situations means:-
•fluid-resistant surgical face masks; disposable gloves; disposable plastic aprons; and eye protection (for example a face visor or goggles).
Where PPE is recommended, this means that:-
• a face mask should be worn if a distance of 2m cannot be maintained from someone with symptoms of COVID-19 (symptomatic children should not be in school);
• if contact is necessary, gloves, an apron and a face mask should be worn; and
• if a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of fluids entering the eye (e.g. from coughing, spitting or vomiting), eye protection should also be worn.
When PPE is used, it is essential that it is used properly. This includes scrupulous hand hygiene and following guidance on donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) PPE safely to reduce the risk of contamination (a link to video guidance is available at the end of this document).
“Staff should only wear PPE when it is appropriate to the task they are undertaking. The exception is where, following an individual or organisational risk assessment it is found that a higher level of contamination, such as respiratory secretions, may be present or the risk assessment identifies that there is an identified need for PPE, then it should be readily available and provided in line with guidance. Staff within catering teams may need to use PPE regularly as they will be serving meals to children and young people across a range of ‘protective bubbles’.” P33
The Guidance for Special Schools goes further:
“This also includes where 1 to 1 contact with pupils and other staff members is required for hand over hand assistance, the repositioning of pupils and in some cases dealing with pupils exhibiting challenging behaviour. The exception is where, following an individual or organisational risk assessment, it is found that there is a higher level of respiratory secretions present or a risk assessment identifies that there is an identified need for enhanced PPE, then it should be readily available and provided in line with public health guidance. Schools and the EA are working closely with PHA and Health and Social Care Trusts with regards to the particular arrangements required for the small number of pupils who require Aerosol Generating Procedures. The EA will continue to work with schools in terms of procuring PPE for staff. Training videos are available on the EA website on the correct procedure for donning and doffing of PPE.”
PPE due to personal need
Members who are clinically vulnerable, pregnant or extremely vulnerable ,who following a risk assessment, can be in school should be supported as they follow the recommendations set out re: social distancing, PPE, adaptations of work environment.
Individual risk assessments should identify any need for PPE, adaptations to work environment.
School specific risk assessments, taking into account the various working environments, may identify a need for PPE, including aprons, gloves, masks, face guards and anti-viral hand gel.
If PPE is identified in a Risk Assessment by the Principal/Line Manager they have a responsibility to provide it. The EA has taken responsibility for the purchasing of PPE. Orders should be processed through them.
Your Principal’s/Line Manager’s role is to be supportive. You should be able to discuss concerns with them.
If you have been off and are returning to school you should be offered a return to work meeting for the Principal/Line Manager to outline the Health & safety guidance (taking heed of social distancing of 2m). This will include changes that have needed to be made in the school and the generic risk assessments based on your working environment.
If you require an individual risk assessment this will be discussed confidentially with the Principal/Line manager.
If you have concerns about safety practice in the school your concerns should be brought to the attention of the Principal/Line Manager, informally first but if you remain dissatisfied with the response then in writing.. Within the COVID Safer Schools Guide INTO advise that “ the Principal and Board of Governors Board identify a Staff Representative to help advise staff and to monitor compliance with Covid-19 control measures in the school” https://www.into.ie/app/uploads/2019/07/2020_06_23_INTOGuide_Covid_SaferSchools.pdf
If you are anxious about being in school it is important that you seek support. Any member who feels unwell or anxious is advised to contact their GP for medical advice. Your wellbeing must be a priority. Your school should be prioritising your well-being as business critical. If anyone feels the need for additional support remember support is also available through Inspire https://www.inspirewellbeing.org/
We have all had different experiences through COVID, a school focus on staff welfare should ensure “every employee feels they are returning to a supportive and caring environment”.
This should be covered in the whole school risk assessment. (Risk Assessment Templates available here).
INTO would advise schools should have signage at entrance points reminding of social distancing and use of face coverings by visitors specifically contractors & deliveries. Social distancing should be adhered to at all times. Mandatory use of face coverings should be adhered to unless there are personal medical reasons not to. Other mitigating steps the school has put in place should be made clear to all who are entering the school e.g. One-way systems etc
Essential visits from EA support services will be carried out after EA have carried out their own risk assessments. INTO are awaiting a response from EA to further clarify this issue and will update this FAQ when the information is available.
I am a Literacy Service teacher working for EA and visit a number of schools each day. What guidelines are in place for me considering I will be engaging with members of numerous protective “bubbles?”
There will not be any immediate school visits by EA Literacy Service staff at the start of term. Literacy Service delivery in the immediate term will continue to be delivered remotely as it was during April to June.
For this to change, the Service will be incrementally assessing and risk-assessing the capacity for school visits as the terms develops and in line with all the relevant guidance taking into the account the individual circumstances of staff, pupils and schools.
I have concerns on my return to school regarding social distancing with pupils. Can I wear a face mask to feel more protected?
Face coverings have become increasingly a part of the risk mitigations in place in schools to limit and contain the spread of COVID-19. This measure has been stepped up since schools have been open and is advice we expect to continue to develop.
- pupils and teachers wear a face covering in corridors and other communal areas of post-primary schools
- strongly recommend that all pupils wear a face covering on all dedicated school transport including buses and taxis where it is appropriate for them to do so.
- strongly encourages face coverings in communal areas for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible.
- staff and pupils may wish to use them during the routine school day and this is acceptable.
- Schools should also be aware that some persons (including some children) are exempt from wearing face coverings.
- Face coverings must be worn in staff rooms and during adult to adult meetings lasting more than 15 minutes and by adults visiting the school site.
Further clarification on face coverings is available on https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-face-coverings
Coronavirus (COVID-19) usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first.
This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is important in controlling the spread of the virus.
The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.
Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus (COVID-19) they’re not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.
With the return to school practical advice is essential to reduce personal risk. Some basic infection control measures include:
Regular hand washing and use of hand sanitiser
Ventilation is key, open every window you can in all the rooms you are in.
To improve the effectiveness of hand washing, ensure you are bare below the elbow, remove watches and all jewellery, short nails, no false nails, no nail polish (these can harbour the virus).
Hair tied up above the shoulder , if you have short hair ensure it is away from your face to reduce you touching it.
If you are wearing a face covering do not touch it – if you do touch it, it becomes wet or someone else touches it, remove it.
Wash your clothes as soon as you get home. If you are collecting your own children plan to change before collecting them.
Don’t wear clothes that can’t be washed daily eg. ties.
INTO will be updating the website frequently with further advice.
Responsibility for cleaning lies with the Principal and is delivered through the school caretaker/building maintenance. The Re-opening Guidance stipulates that “Building Supervisors may wish to consider continuous cleaning of toilets and wash facilities”.
If additional cleaning is required during the school day the FAQs Q.9 published by DE state: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions%20Guidance%20on%20Supporting%20Staff%20to%20Return%20to%20Schools%20-%2010%20August%202020.pdf
"It is understandable that in some cases additional staff may be required in order for schools to meet the requirements for restarting in August. There are a number of options available to School Leaders e.g. offer temporary additional hours to current staff or employ additional staff on a temporary basis."
However, infection control is the responsibility of us all. Within an individual school risk assessment and COVID guidance there may be identified areas of frequent contact e.g. door handles, taps, keyboards, phones which it would be advised to frequently wipe clean after use. A school should provide the necessary equipment and guidance for how this is done in a manageable way in consultation with all staff.
I have been asked to deliver supervision to another class in KS2 – would this affect the “protective bubble”?
The Education Restart Guidance for schools is clear. Within primary schools, where social distancing is challenging and within early years (where it is acknowledged social distancing will be limited) the key mitigation to risk of virus transmission is the protective bubble. The guidance continues that “every effort should be made to decrease interactions between groups”. “Once put in place membership of groups should not change (until further easing of measures if possible based upon the public health situation)” (p.18) "Primary pupils will tend to spend most of their time with one group of peers and one/two adults" (p.22).
All staff/pupil interaction and contact in school should be thoroughly risk assessed to ensure that mitigating factors are identified, enforced and prioritise the safety of all.
It must also be recognised that the additional planning, preparation and clear-up/set-up for group work in all years will create a higher workload during the managing of COVID-19.
All teachers in primary schools should have no more than 25 hours contact time in any given week.
The school risk assessments provided by the EA to every sector (Risk Assessment Templates available here) identify this as a risk to be mitigated.
“If teachers collect individual students work for marking, this should be marked within the classroom, they should apply good hand washing procedures or use hand sanitiser at regular intervals and should be discouraged from touching their face after handling pupils books. The use of gloves is not recommended as the misuse or removal of gloves incorrectly, could inadvertently cause contamination. Consider the use of other forms of feedback techniques such as verbal feedback, whole class feedback, self-assessment or comments written onto post-it notes etc.”
INTO would additionally advise that work that needs marked whether assessment or selected pieces of class work should be left for a minimum of 72 hours before they are handled by either the teacher or the pupils. There should be no transfer of school-books/worksheets home by pupils or teachers in line with DE guidance. Teachers should be supplied with hand sanitiser and have access to hand washing facilities to ensure safety.
The Education Restart Guidance (24 Sept 2020) states that “It is recommended that tele-conference or video-conference be used for parent-teacher meetings or staff meetings in schools. When face-to-face meetings are required, the current public health advice on social distancing must be followed”
INTO advise where schools wish teachers to use online conferencing and communication with parents/carers, schools must develop a concise and agreed set of guidelines for teachers, parents, other invited parties and pupils in relation to safe and secure use of such platforms. Schools should seek guidance from employing authorities in relation to online safety when endorsing such platforms.
Cognisance needs to be taken of the limitations and the possible lack of access to the necessary hardware and connectivity to ensure that all parents have equity of access.
Members should not partake in online parent teacher meetings if schools have not demonstrated taking every reasonable precaution regarding teacher and pupil safety, privacy, data rights etc during and after online communications.
Teachers need to be aware of the identity of all participants within the meeting. Nickname and third-party email addresses should be discouraged as teachers cannot confirm the identity of the individual. Teachers can be open to abusive comments or negative statements from individuals whom they may presume are related to the students within their class but are unable to confirm.
INTO strongly advises its members that they should not be required to contact parents at home as a matter of routine.
Members are reminded not to engage online with requests for information from individuals who claim to be requesting this on behalf of students. Teachers can only share information with those people listed on the SIMMs system as contacts. If the contact details are not listed on SIMMS for the purpose of contact and sharing information, then teachers must not respond to these requests. This can include members of the students extended family where details have not been added to SIMMs.
Where issues are identified in relation to pastoral or child protection issues, contact should be made by the relevant professional, identified through the schools agreed management structure or safeguarding policy.
Parent teacher meetings must be completed within the 1265hrs.
My school has calculated its weekly PPA time for after school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, it is also scheduling its monthly whole school staff meeting on a Monday. Can meetings be included in PPA?
Individual Preparation Planning and Assessment (PPA) time is not to be used for whole school meetings. Whole school meetings are a separate part of the Directed Time Budget. However, inter-year group meetings, curriculum or Key Stage meetings can take place during PPA time, with the agreement of the staff involved and agreed notice, when they are relating to planning and/or assessment.
Do I need to keep my classroom windows open now the weather has got colder? How do I make sure my room is ventilated?
Yes. Ventilation is a key mitigating factor in reducing transmission through aerosols and airborne particles. DE Restart Guidance has extended the guidance in this area 8/12/2020 and a letter from the Employing bodies 9/12/2020 stresses the importance of following the guidance “Management Side takes this opportunity to remind all schools that they must fully comply with the guidance as issued. In circumstances where a school encounters an issue with any aspect of operational compliance, the school must immediately contact its Cross Organisational Link Officer for further advice.”
“The use of ventilation, whether natural or by mechanical means, should therefore be maximised as far as is practical” p24-25. Members should ensure they read through the DE Guidance. The document linked to the DE advice provides practical information including:
“naturally ventilated spaces, windows and vents are often the mechanism for providing outside air. In the colder months, the natural forces that drive air through these openings, wind and indoor/outdoor temperature difference are greater, so they do not need to be opened as wide. Opening just the high-level vents can enable more mixing of the outside air with air in the space and also warms the incoming air before it reaches the occupied zone. This allows more colder outside air to be introduced to the space without causing significant discomfort. It is better to open all the windows or vents a small amount to aid mixing and warming. If natural ventilation openings are the only mechanism for delivering outside air into a space it is important not to completely close them when the spaces are occupied as this can result in very low ventilation rates and increased risks of airborne viral transmission.”
INTO advises members to read the HSENI information on ventilation:
Samples of advice include:
“Good ventilation is therefore an important component of an employer’s overall strategy to reduce Covid-19 in the workplace. In particular ensuring multi-occupant workplaces where individuals are in the same room/space together for an extended period of time are well ventilated to help prevent the build-up of the virus and reduce the risk of transmission.”
- Natural ventilation
Natural ventilation consists of opening windows and doors. Changes to improve ventilation can be achieved by:
- partially opening doors and windows to provide ventilation while reducing draughts;
- opening high level windows in preference to low level to reduce draughts; and
- purging spaces by opening windows, vents and external doors (e.g., at suitable intervals if a space is occupied for long periods at a time).
Options to improve thermal comfort include:
- adjusting indoor heating systems to compensate for cold air flow from outside (e.g., higher system settings, increased duration);
- work locations could be relocated to avoid drafts and maintain social distancing; and
- encourage staff to dress appropriately for the indoor temperature.
A strategy of short duration purging at regular intervals can be effective in controlling air quality and thermal comfort this will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on building design, size, age etc.”
Recording attendance at class would be agreed practice when schools are open. INTO would support methods of recording attendance that are not arduous. Recording of attendance at various sessions is not dealt with in the DE guidance. Given that schools should not attempt to replicate ordinary timetables during remote learning, the efficacy of attempting to take a register as normal as a means of monitoring engagement, as required by DE, is questionable. This is also potentially incompatible with a number of the forms of engagement and provision that teachers are providing at this time, commensurate with the access of both pupil and teacher, to appropriate facilities at appropriate times of the day and taking into account various other limitations that home working places on staff and students. Flexibility is important and requiring all pupils to be online at any given time may not be deliverable and therefore attempting to register them on this basis may create more problems than it solves.
INTO would advise for the protection of teachers who have chosen to deliver live lessons to keep records of who is in attendance.
INTO also advises members with regard to live lessons:
Online lessons take a number of forms. Schools should have a robust policy agreed with staff and signed up to by pupils, parents and staff before embarking on new forms of online teaching. The access to online learning will be dependent on provision of equipment and broadband and will change due to locality. Live lessons are impacted by the number of users in any household, the number of accessible devices and quality of broadband. “The Department notes that there is no compelling evidence to indicate that such synchronous learning is more effective at improving pupil outcomes than asynchronous approaches through for example pre-recorded lessons. The Department is also conscious of the cautionary note raised by a number of the teaching unions in regard to livestreaming of lessons. It is of course a matter for individual schools in conjunction with their staff to determine whether livestreaming represents an appropriate learning approach for their school community and to ensure that all child protection and safeguarding procedures are appropriately followed.”
Teachers are reminded that they cannot be pressurised to undertake live streaming, they can say no and use alternative teaching methods which they prefer in meeting the learning needs of their pupils.
In terms of ‘book scoops’ or their equivalent at present, while there is no instruction from INTO on this schools should be cognisant of both the guidance from DE in relation to safety during the current pandemic situation which includes limits on the sharing of books and the limits that remote learning has placed on the availability of work in books to evaluate or monitor through activities such as ‘book scoops’.
This includes guidance in para 14 page 34 of:
that: ‘Resources which are not easily washable or wipe-able should not be shared between classes or bubbles and if necessary removed from classrooms.’ This includes books and other written materials.
Also, EA risk assessments for Primary schools outlines that books should not currently be leaving the classroom:
“If teachers collect individual students work for marking, this should be marked within the classroom, they should apply good hand washing procedures or use hand sanitiser at regular intervals and should be discouraged from touching their face after handling pupils’ books. The use of gloves is not recommended as the misuse or removal of gloves incorrectly, could inadvertently cause contamination. Consider the use of other forms of feedback techniques such as verbal feedback, whole class feedback, self-assessment or comments written onto post-it notes etc.”
INTO also notes that DE guidance to schools on the return of pupils following the lockdown calls on a focus on pupil wellbeing:
Paragraph 8 states in bold: ‘The emphasis at present is on reassuring children and their parents and on supporting children to reconnect socially, build positive relationships and engage enthusiastically with learning as they return to the school environment.’
When schools return to some form of normality, if book scoops are chosen as a method of monitoring and evaluating work then schools should be mindful of the workload implications around them and while they should be regular, they should not happen too often. There should be a focus for the book scoop, and they should be subject specific.
With regard to the letter to principals issued by DE on 24 March 2021 Statutory Assessment, Pupil Reporting Arrangements and Attendance of Years 12-14 Pupil Reporting Arrangements:
The Education (Pupil Reporting) Regulations (NI) 2009 apply to all grant aided schools except nursery schools or pupils in primary schools or special schools who have not attained the lower limit of compulsory school age. The Regulations require an annual report to be provided to parents by 30 June and also set out what the report should contain at each Key Stage. The Department intends to make legal provision to suspend the requirement to provide an annual report for pupils in Years 12, 13 and 14 in 2020/21. The requirement to provide a report will remain for pupils in all other year groups, however, schools have complete flexibility in regard to the content and format of the report provided to parents. You will note that the requirement is to provide one written report annually only.
INTO advises that the statutory requirement is for only one written report to be provided per pupil in any academic year. This requirement will have been fulfilled if a written report has already been provided during the current academic year. Such reports should follow the format currently agreed within each school setting. Should you have already prepared a report to go to parents at this time, INTO would maintain that it is unreasonable to expect new reports to be prepared as a result of new guidelines from DE.
3. Work and Attendance
The announcement on Friday 27 March in relation to essential work makes it clear that teachers should not be travelling to their place of work is still applicable at June 15 and makes it clear that teachers should work from home where attendance at school is not business critical. Effective 6pm, on Monday 30 March, school buildings are no longer be accessible to school staff (except in the case of school staff who are involved in planning for the distribution of school meals to vulnerable pupils) - see update on school meals:
Yes, you may bring your own children to school with you. But you would need to inform the principal. A principal may request the teacher does not come to school with their children if it increases the numbers and risks in their school. However, if your children are under school age they should not be brought into the school.
My child/children are under school age and would generally be minded by their grandparents, who can no longer look after them as they are identified in the vulnerable adult category, do I have to bring them to work?
Members must assess their personal risk and inform their principal where they believe they should not present to school in the interest of their own health and their families and in the interest of the public good.
To this end INTO has already published guidance to members regarding their attendance in school during this unprecedented period.
Further guidance can be found here:
I have been asked by my principal to attend school, I am worried about my own safety if I am forced to go to school.
Unless a visit to school is business critical* then INTO advises it members that they should continue to follow the PHA advice and remain at home and do not go the school. Meetings can be facilitated remotely and in regard to going to school to prepare more work or collect books for marking, preparing wall displays and requisitions, INTO advises that it is unreasonable to expect teachers, who are working from home, to mark individual pupil’s work. In relation to attending work no advice from Stormont has been received that changes the original advice regarding unnecessary travel. Until the Department of Education publicly states that schools are reopening this advice will remain in place.
*INTO sees business critical as being those tasks which either cannot be done remotely from home, or essential undertakings that are time-bound. INTO believes that teachers should decide if requisitions and meetings can be completed electronically or remotely from home. Displays, general classroom readiness and requisition requests which are not essential at this time should be completed nearer to school reopening as part of a specifically coordinated plan.
INTO is currently liaising with department of Education officials with a view to providing advice in regard to an amended or ‘light touch’ report. Until this guidance is forthcoming, INTO advises its members not to begin to write any summer reports. INTO further advises that the statutory requirement is for only one written report to be provided to a parent in any academic year. This requirement will have been fulfilled if a written report has already been provided during the current academic year. Should you have already prepared a report to go to parents at this time, INTO would suggest that it would be unreasonable to expect new reports to be prepared as a result of new guidelines from DE.
Further guidance can be found here:
I am due to return to Northern Ireland from France on Wednesday 19 August 2020. I booked this holiday as I normally do before Christmas and well before the COVID-19 crisis came upon us. What will happen if the school has reopened before I return?
Where teachers have pre-booked holidays based on agreed holiday lists in individual schools, and a final date is agreed for key year groups to return to school, they should expect that the pre-existing holiday lists would be honoured in this case. Where schools without published return dates but where teachers have acted in good faith based on average return dates from previous years it would be expected that teachers would not be penalised.
Members should be mindful that they will be expected to be available for work for their normal contractual compliment of 195 days.
The official advice NI Direct linked from the Department of Education’s Coronavirus Guidance states the following, in relation to staff who are clinically vulnerable:
“Clinically vulnerable individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions as set out in the NI Direct Government website have been advised to take extra care in observing social distancing and should work from home where possible. This includes pregnant women. Principals/line managers should endeavour to support this, where possible, for example by asking staff to support remote education, carry out lesson planning or other roles which can be done from home.
If clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home they should take extra care in the work place observing social distancing, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, although the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for this distance if they prefer to do so. If they have to spend time within 2 metres of other people, Principals/line managers should undertake a risk assessment with the individual to assess and control measures to reduce risk. The employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments. They should, if necessary, be offered the safest available on-site roles.
All employers have a 'duty of care' for staff and, in practice, this means taking all steps they reasonably can to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff.”
Teachers Considered Vulnerable
Teachers over the age of 70 are considered vulnerable, even if they do not have an underlying health condition. This also applies to those who are pregnant.
Others considered vulnerable include teachers who are under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. for adults this usually is anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
Those with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus must stay at home to protect themselves. GPs will be writing to those in Northern Ireland most at risk to provide them with more detailed advice.
Some people may not fit into either the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or ‘vulnerable’ definitions but may still have concerns about their risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
If you have concerns, it is best to speak with your GP or hospital clinician as they will have knowledge of your medical history and circumstances.
Teachers Considered Extremely Vulnerable
Known as shielding, teachers considered to be at the highest clinical risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) received shielding letters from their GP or hospital care team to inform them prior to 1 August 2020, they were asked to take extra measures to social distance minimising interaction with others. Shielding was paused in the majority of cases from 1 August 2020.
DE Guidance states “The latest advice recommends that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals who are unable to work from home can now return to the workplace subject to risk assessment. The employee can be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague to discuss individual risk assessments”
EA Risk assessments should be completed by the principal and the teacher. Copies are available on DE website https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/guidance-supporting-staff-return-schools .
INTO advises members to prepare for meeting the principal to discuss a risk assessment by reading the appropriate risk assessment template.
My child has been sent home from school and has to self-isolate, I need to support them can I request that I work from home? Will I get paid?
DE Guidance on Absence Scenario 5 “Staff who have a child who is required to self-isolate a result of COVID-19.
The exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have particularly impacted on staff with dependants. It is recognised that in an emergency situation a member of staff may be unable to attend school/workplace in their usual capacity at very short notice due to their child being required to self-isolate for a period of time as a precaution against COVID-19 and there being no one else available to care for the child. In these specific circumstances, the member of staff should be facilitated to work from home. If the nature of the individual’s job prevents this the member of staff, in these circumstances and for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, may request exceptional dependant leave from their Principal/Line Manager up to a maximum of ten working days (pro-rata for part time staff) on normal pay. In all other circumstances staff with dependants should continue to investigate and source all care options available to them in order that they can attend the school/work place. Principals/Line Managers and staff can also refer to the Responsive Working Toolkit for more information on the range of existing flexible working and special leave options available to support them.
4. Sick Leave
Paid sick leave will continue in line with the provisions already in place.
If you recover, you should indicate to your school/ principal that you are now fit for work, and you should follow the current COVID-19 advice for attending school. If you have been absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, the school/ principal will follow the dates of the certificate and can end the sick leave during the closure.
If you have been absent for a longer period – 4 weeks or more – you need to give a week’s notice to your principal of your intention to return to work. If you have been referred to Occupational Health, an appointment should be arranged by telephone. The procedures for return to work on the back of the OH report will apply as previously although again a return to work meeting should be facilitated by telephone.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
Schools/ principals should continue to record and amend absences during the current closure, and the administrative aspect of sick leave will be managed as it would be if schools were open.
Sick leave should continue to be recorded, and substitute teachers who have been employed to cover the absences will remain in receipt of salary, for the duration of the medical certificate provided by a teacher.
Where a teacher is absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, you should follow the dates of the certificate and end the sick leave during the closure.
If a teacher has been absent for a longer period – more than 4 weeks – they must give a week’s notice of their intention to return to work. If the teacher has been referred to Occupational Health, the principal/Board of Governors must consider the OH recommendations in facilitating the teacher’s return to work provided they have been certified as fit to work in order for the school/ principal to end the period of sick leave. Any meetings should be arranged taking cognisance of the current COVID-19 advice.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
You can only change your unpaid leave if you are either, fit to return to work or if your period of unpaid leave was granted by the Board of Governors. An early return from unpaid leave would have to be agreed by them in the same way as if the school was open.
Where a substitute was scheduled to work in the period of the school closure, then the school should continue to engage that substitute for the absence. The substitute will be paid for that scheduled absence.
6. Substitute Teachers
Even though schools will be closed to pupils, they will remain open for staff so that they can access resource materials and make arrangements for remote learning as appropriate, to facilitate provision for vulnerable children and those of key workers, and be available to carry out other duties that principals may require of them.
All employees will receive normal pay across the range of circumstances that we are facing whether they remain in the workplace, are working from home or are unable to carry on working due to circumstances beyond their control. Substitute teachers will also receive their normal pay for the period of time that they have been engaged to work.
This includes any engagements currently registered on the NISTR system AND any engagements which have been verbally agreed between the school and the substitute teacher.
Education Minister Peter Weir has announced a scheme to help support substitute teachers during the Covid-19 crisis. Substitute teachers have been unable to access secure work as schools are closed except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. The scheme will ensure that eligible substitute teachers, engaged between 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020, will have access to an income for the period April to June 2020. They will receive an additional income through this scheme which will top up their income to at least 80% of that earned in the period January to March 2020.
Access to this fund is by application using this link:
During this school closure substitute teachers will receive their normal pay for the period of time that they have been engaged to work. This includes any engagements currently registered on the NISTR system AND any engagements which have been verbally agreed between the school and the substitute teacher.
Tests are available to be booked through Track Trace Protect online, essential workers are prioritised, and teaching staff are identified as essential workers:
In some cases you may be contacted by Test, Track and Trace should you have been in a school or other setting in which you may have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. In such a case you should follow the instructions provided by Test Track & Trace in relation to testing and self-isolating.
With advice for schools constantly changing it would be really helpful if there were links to the latest DE and PHA guidance uploaded to the NISTR site so that substitute teachers are not left in the dark. Is this something that DE has considered?
INTO has contacted NISTR (1 September 2020). Unfortunately, NISTR, when contacted, explained that they could only post guidance on its website when they receive it from DE. At this juncture no guidance has been forthcoming in regard to substitute teachers.
INTO has also contacted DE and requested that information & links be made available through NISTR. We will update information as and when we receive it.
7. PRSD and Pay Progression
Because of COVID-19 I am unable to complete my PRSD which I need to advance up the upper pay scale. What will happen?
The letter received from the Management Side (15 May 2020) and agreed with Teacher Trade Unions states that “for the academic year 2020/21, threshold and pay progression decisions, rather than requiring two consecutive PRSD statements, will be based on one successful PRSD statement in the past two years. The same will apply for the 2021/22 academic year. In relation to leadership posts, PRSD for the academic year 2019/20 will also be discounted.”
8. Hub Schools / Volunteering Scheme
Hub schools are schools that will be the main school open in an area to accommodate key workers children and vulnerable children. Other schools in the area may have very small numbers of children attending so by clustering schools together only one school need open, the Hub school.
There would be an agreed designated principal of the Hub school who would be in charge but other principals of schools that are contributing to the Hub school may be involved in the co-ordination and running of said Hub school. Management authorities have nominated a number of representatives to facilitate the organisation of Hub schools. See DE FAQs number 24
Hub schools will obviously take a few days to organise, but it is expected that most will be up and running from Monday 30th March 2020.
Hub/Cluster schools are schools that will be the main school open in an area to accommodate key workers children and vulnerable children. All staff who are available for work within the PHA guidelines, can be asked to attend the school in which they are employed. Where a school has become part of a hub/cluster, these teachers can be asked to attend the cluster school. Staff should be told at least 24 hours before (where practical) if they are required the next day and they should be sent home as early as possible in the case that they are not needed.
School leaders, including principals/playgroup leaders, vice-principals and senior teachers, from across the schools in the hub/cluster should agree a rota, perhaps on a weekly basis with a core team assuming the remit of ‘Leader in Charge’.
The leader in charge will determine the number of children that can be safely accommodated in the school in line with PHA guidance on social distancing.
The cluster school will be registered with the Department of Education (DE) which provides appropriate indemnity for schools and staff, including the volunteers. The chair of governors should be informed of the use of the school building for the C-19 cluster.
For the individual schools and the C-19 cluster schools, the employing authorities and DE will have governance responsibility.
The hub/cluster school will apply the safeguarding and child protection regulations as outlined in DE Circular 2017/04. A simplified version of the safeguarding arrangements and the safeguarding flowchart, with clear information for all staff, including volunteers will be available to all clusters from the CPSS.
Designated and Deputy Designated teachers, available for work within PHA guidelines, should be included in staff rotas; in the event that designated, and deputy designated teachers are unavailable, the flowchart will provide clear information for the leader in charge and CPSS will be available to advise.
Where possible, a child’s school should pass on any relevant medical, safeguarding or SEN information to the leader in charge. This will not always be possible due to staff absence as a result of illness or self-isolation. It will be important that parents provide this information. Where this information is not made available the Leader in Charge will wish to factor this into the Risk Assessment they will be carrying out.
No, teachers will not be expected to teach as normal. Pupils should simply be involved in meaningful educational activities.
Schools will open for the normal hours, usually. However, this may change as the situation evolves. In this event INTO will issue further advice.
Schools are directed to practise social distancing as per PHA advice and to ensure the minimum number of pupils are placed in a classroom to ensure everyone’s safety. Safety trumps all other considerations.
In circumstance where a school is unable to meet the normal cleanliness and hygiene standards of a school then INTO would expect the principal to close the school until such times as the normal cleanliness and hygiene standards are met.
My principal insists that I should be coming to work even though I have explained that I am unwell. What should I do?
If you are unwell you should not be going to work. You should let your school know by following the normal procedure. If you have symptoms associated with COVID-19 you should follow the Public Health Agency advice and self-isolate.
If there are no children attending the school, then staff do not have to remain on the school premises. However, staff may well be required to attend the Hub school on an agreed rota basis as they are still required to be available for work even if not at their own school.
No. Hub schools may well continue to open in the evenings and weekends to accommodate the working cycle of key workers. INTO advice is that vulnerable children should not be included in evening or weekend supervision. The supervision of children on evenings and weekends will be on a voluntary basis only. Any member, permanent or substitute who volunteers to work extra hours on evenings or weekends should fill in a TR269 form to receive pay for extra hours. Where possible principals should employ substitute teachers for supervision cover during evenings, weekends and holiday periods.
Any principal who volunteers to work extra hours on evenings or weekends should fill in a TR269 form to receive pay for extra hours.
Staff should be told at least 24 hours before (where practical) if they are required the next day and they should be sent home as early as possible in the case that they are not needed.
Where a child has previously displayed significant behaviour issues, schools should carry out a risk assessment. Where schools are unable to guarantee ‘social distancing’ in relation to a particular child, schools should contact parents to make alternative provision for their child. Safety trumps all other considerations.
On Friday 27 March the Education Minister sent a communication to all teachers in relation to COVID-19: Our Schools Need You. This letter would appear to be targeted at workers other than teachers and support staff already employed in schools.
Given that those employed in schools are already engaged in online learning and supervision of children of Key Workers, and it would therefore not be practical to volunteer for such a scheme at this time.
Schools in deficit do not need to seek permission from the EA with regard to additional expenses incurred from operational costs for instance increased utility bills and staff pay due to extra opening. Schools must record and document all the additional costs incurred, then apply to EA to have them reimbursed later.
Yes, this will be a distinct possibility if there are not sufficient numbers of staff available. If this is the case, then employing authorities will investigate the possibility of using staff from different schools.
9. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings in NI Guidance: 27 March 2020
No. Only children from the defined groups who cannot be safely cared for at home. This will help to limit the chance of them both catching and spreading the virus.
Does this guidance change the previous advice about teachers with underlying health conditions remaining at home?
No. This changes nothing. INTO’s advice in regard to teachers with underlying conditions teaching remotely from home remains. Also, teachers with caring responsibilities for people with underlying health conditions should also teach remotely from home.
Simply put, pupils can only be accommodated in schools if stringent social distancing can be adhered to.
- Inform parents of exactly what is expected from children
- Schools should not have any unnecessary visitors
- Ensure small class sizes
- Stagger school starting and finishing times
- Stagger lunch and break times
Will I have to provide a certificate from my doctor to confirm medical information I have provided to school?
This may be required by the school but can be obtained retrospectively.