Teaching union activists in the North are advising their members NOT to return to work in schools this week, to combat the rising number of Covid infections connected to schools. And they say they are seeing a huge rise in NEU membership because of concern at government policy to ‘open schools whatever the cost’.
NEU District Secretaries in Wigan have been emailing members setting out the risks and providing a template Section 44 letter to send to headteachers, informing them they will not be coming into work onsite. Following massive NEU Zoom calls attended by hundreds of thousands of staff, it is expected that many branches across the country will follow suit.
A copy of the email was sent to The Prole Star by retired NEU member and Wigan Trades Council NEU delegate, Barry Conway.
The email reads:
"What a way to start! We have been bombarded with texts, emails and WhatsApp messages since the latest NEU Zoom meeting at 11, which was watched by a record-breaking 100,000+ people!
With staff having done some mixing over the holidays it only needs one person to have the much more contagious strain to infect everyone else, jeopardising your lives, those of your friends and the parents, grandparents and carers of your pupils. This is not being melodramatic - this new strain is 70% more transmissible than the original and is now more prevalent in secondary-age and primary-age pupils than other age groups, meaning you are much more likely to get infected and become unwell. Hence the action we are asking you to take. Therefore, planned whole-school INSETS must be done remotely.
We have had more than SEVENTY new joiners since the start of the year, with 28 joining this morning alone! This clearly shows staff who were not in any union, have re-joined or switched to us have done so because we are taking the correct stance.
For those of you who have not received it or cannot find it, here is the Section 44 letter you need to fill in and send to your HT / Principal as soon as possible, saying your school is not a safe working environment and you will be working from home from tomorrow. Edit as applicable. This will allow them to inform parents and sort out planning rotas earlier. We have also put it on our website (WiganNEU.co.uk ). You can send in individual copies or one signed by all of you.
Please note staff who are not in any union can also sign it - if they do, please encourage them to join us for ongoing protection - https://neu.org.uk/ and click on the big "Join now" button on the right.
You are NOT on strike and you are NOT taking industrial action, so you will be paid. The main Primary Heads union (NAHT) has said it will be sympathetic towards members who take this action. The main Secondary Heads union (ASCL) has demanded proof from the government that schools are safe, so they too are on our side. Of course, we too have HT members so if your school is lucky enough to have an NEU HT they will already be encouraging you to follow our advice.
If your HT threatens you will disciplinary action or a deduction in pay, let us know as soon as possible so we can sort it out. Also, you only need to send in the letter - you do NOT have to ring them to doubly confirm!
>>> STAY SAFE AND HELP KEEP OTHER SAFE - WORK FROM HOME FROM TOMORROW <<<"
Max Atkins, Joint District Secretary
Karen Parkin, Joint District Secretary
Rachel Darbyshire, Membership & Assistant Secretary
The Section 44 letter is copied below:
Dear [name of head],
Re: Health & Safety
I am writing to you following the increase in transmission and infection rates currently recorded across England.
You are, I am sure, aware that you have legal duties to protect the health, safety and welfare of your staff and pupils. Those duties arise under the following legislation: -
· Sections 2 and 3 of the Health & Safety Act 1974
· Regulations 3 and 8 of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999
· Regulation 4 of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
· Regulation 4 of the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992
· Regulation 7 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
The most recent advice from SAGE is that schools should not open in January other than for children of key workers and vulnerable children. This is because the scientific advice is that it is not safe for schools to open. There are new variants of Covid-19 that are highly infectious and infection rates have increased significantly since schools closed.
I appreciate that measures have been in place since September to allow the school to open but according to SAGE those measures may no longer be sufficient. They state in their most recent report: -
The introduction of Tier 4 measures in England combined with the school holidays will be informative of the strength of measures required to control the new variant but analysis of this will not be possible until mid-January.
Based on the above I do not believe that it is safe for me to return to teaching or supporting full classes at [name of school].
If I do attend [name of school] I believe that this will present a serious and imminent danger to my health and safety.
I am therefore writing to inform you that I am exercising my contractual right not to attend an unsafe place of work. I believe that not attending work in the current circumstances is an appropriate step for me to take for the following reasons:
1. The dangers that are preventing me from attending work are the risk of contracting coronavirus and or spreading coronavirus to others. 2. The person(s) I am seeking to protect are myself, my family, our pupils, their families, my colleagues, their families and members of the public.
3. I believe that this danger is serious because coronavirus infection is potentially fatal and has already resulted in more than 73,512 deaths in the UK with a significant up surge in recent weeks.
4. I believe that, if I were to attend work, the danger would be imminent because before Christmas the highest infection rates were in children of school age, and the new variant may be more transmissible amongst students than previously.
5. I will be happy to return to the workplace once SAGE is satisfied that the R rate has decreased, scientific advice has been produced on safety measures required to make schools more “Covid secure”, risk assessments have been updated and any necessary further safety measures implemented.
In the meantime, I am of course willing to carry out any of my duties that can be undertaken from my home, including planning, preparing and delivering on-line learning including supporting colleagues; and being in school supporting the learning of key worker and vulnerable children where necessary.