COVID-19 HR guidance for schools and staff
Coronavirus – HR guidance for schools and their staff
Government and other guidance
All coronavirus guidance for educational settings can be found in one place on GOV.UK: Guidance for educational settings
In collaboration with ASCL and NAHT unions the LGA have published joint workforce guidance for schools on how to best manage the government’s current quarantine rules and NHS requirement for self-isolation with regards planned hospital admission.
Frequently asked questions
The situation surrounding Coronavirus is fast-moving and developing rapidly, so it is important to keep yourself up to date.
If you have any immediate issues or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the HR service desk.
The FAQs are grouped as follows:
- Health and Self-isolation
- Caring responsibilities
- Working from home and alternative working arrangements
- Annual leave
- Other miscellaneous questions
Health and self-isolation
What do I do if I am ill with Coronavirus or have Coronavirus symptoms?
In line with normal sickness absence reporting procedures you should inform your Head teacher or manager from the senior leadership team.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms and are unable to work then you should inform your Head teacher or manager from the senior leadership team and this will be recorded as sickness absence and sick pay will be covered in line with individual terms and conditions.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms but feel able to work then we would ask that you do so from home. In these circumstances you should inform your Head teacher or manager and talk about work that you can carry out from home. This will not be recorded as sickness absence and you should be paid as normal.
If your symptoms become worse and you feel unable to work, please inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team.
When do I need to self-isolate?
You need to self-isolate if you or anyone in your home has:
- A new continuous cough
High temperature (of 37.8 degrees centigrade or higher)
Loss of sense of taste or smell
In these circumstances you should self-isolate in line with government guidance and arrange a test at your earliest convenience.
Please refer to Stay at home guidance
See question below “Am I able to get myself, or a member of my family tested?”.
What do I do when I am self-isolating?
As outlined above, if you have Coronavirus symptoms and are unable to work then you should inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team and this will be recorded as sickness absence. You should arrange a test at your earliest convenience.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating because you have been in contact with someone in your home, but feel able to work from home, then you should do so. In these circumstances you should inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team and talk about work that you can carry out from home. This will not be recorded as sickness absence and you should be paid as normal. However if your symptoms become worse and you feel unable to work, please inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team.
See question below “Am I able to get myself, or a member of my family tested?”.
Am I able to get myself, or a member of my family tested?
Testing is now available for either you or members of your household:
- If you have coronavirus symptoms – a new continuous cough, high temperature or a loss of, or changes to, your sense of smell and taste, and are following government guidelines on self-isolating.
- A member of your household has coronavirus symptoms so you are self-isolating in line with government guidelines. The household member with symptoms will be tested.
The test must be done between two and four days after you (or the member of your household) first experience symptoms.
You can book an appointment via the Gov.UK website. Appointments can be booked here.
You can also ask for a home testing kit- check here for help NHS get-help-with-asking-for-a-coronavirus-test
Your test results will be sent back to you (or your family member) directly. You should notify your manager of the test outcome and they can advise on what next steps to take in terms of self-isolation if the test is positive.
Refer to the NHS website what-your-test-result-means
Priority covid 19 testing for essential workers
The council has now registered with the National Employers’ Referral Portal to offer priority Covid-19 testing for ‘essential workers’ where:-
- They are self-isolating because they have Covid-19 symptoms or a member of their household has Covid-19 symptoms;
- They have been unable to get a test through the NHS website;
- They meet the criteria of an ‘essential worker’ – which includes education and childcare workers, including support and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals.
This is how it works:
- The member of staff makes a request for a priority test to their manager;
- The manager completes the relevant form on the Service Now Portal to request the test, then emails it to the HR Service Desk. The simple form asks for name, SAP number and mobile number and approval that they are an essential worker;
- The HR Service Desk will refer the employee’s details to the NHS Priority Testing Site;
- The employee will receive a text message with a link to the test booking page and a verification code.
For Maintained Schools’ staff - would you kindly cascade this message to your staff.
For Academy Schools’ staff - as Buckinghamshire Council is not the employer, staff will not be able to access the priority testing through the council. However, if you are an Academy and would like advice on how to enable your staff to use the priority testing system, the council is happy to help – email your request to email@example.com
Please contact HRservicedesk@buckinghamshire.gov.uk if you have any questions.
What should I do if I feel that my own individual circumstances put me at additional risk should I become ill with Coronavirus?
Where you feel that your particular circumstances continue to place you at a high risk (such as BAME, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions etc) then you should discuss this with your Headteacher who may seek advice from HR, which may include an Occupational Health referral. You may also need to complete an individual Risk Assessment to support you in your role.
How do we record self-isolation on SIMS?
If you are self-isolating but still working from home, you do not need to record anything as you are still working. If you are off sick because you are ill with symptoms you should record sickness in the usual way.
How will coronavirus absence impact on my record if my absence is being monitored under sickness absence management arrangements?
Sickness absence management procedures will continue, however it is recognised that some of the timescales for managing sickness absence processes may be relaxed during this time. Your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team will discuss your specific circumstances with you at the appropriate time.
A staff member is not self-isolating or displaying symptoms, but has told me they are worried and don’t want to come to work, what should I do?
Advice from the Local Government Association is as follows:
- It is anticipated that employees will, as far as possible within the constraints of school closures, caring responsibilities and complying with Government advice on self-isolating and social distancing, continue to perform their duties and be flexible to ensure that services continue to be provided
- If difficulties arise with a refusal to attend work or a refusal to carry out certain duties, managers should ascertain what the concerns are, consider what, if anything, can be reasonably done to address those concerns and take action accordingly, to encourage the individual to work.
- If the above has been done, but the individual still refuses to attend or perform the task then this may constitute unauthorised absence or partial performance (ie where they are only prepared to carry out certain tasks rather than their full range of duties)., which may justify a reduction or withdrawal of pay. The manager should explain the individual’s contractual obligations and the consequences of unreasonably refusing to work,
- If there is still no change in the individual’s position, immediate advice should be sought from HR to ensure an appropriate and consistent approach can be taken.
Ultimately it is a decision for the head as to whether it is a reasonable management instruction for the employee to attend work, and if they refuse whether or not to with-hold pay.
The Local Government Association states:
“We would recommend this issue is dealt with on a case by case and sympathetic basis, with any formal process only being used as a last resort.“
I am required to self-isolate due to having symptoms and I am too unwell to work, but I cannot get to the doctors to supply a fit note. What can I do?
You can apply for a proof of absence online which you should send to your head teacher.
Find out more about online isolation notes.
Somebody in my household has returned from abroad and is now self-isolating because of quarantine rules. What should I do?
You do not need to self-isolate unless you or the member of your household is displaying symptoms of Covid-19.
I am booked to go abroad or I have been abroad and now need to quarantine – what does that mean for my pay?
On 4 July Government travel advice changed, with exemptions for travelling to certain countries and territories that no longer pose a high risk for British travellers. View the list of exempted destinations. The Government continues to advise against non-essential international travel, except to countries and territories listed. They also currently advise against cruise ship travel.
Find out more about government travel advice..
Where you elect to travel abroad then you will need to accept the risk that this may bring in terms of quarantine or in the extreme being required to remain in the country due to a lockdown. These risks have the potential to impact on your ability to undertake your role and/ or be paid.
If you are due to travel abroad you must notify your headteacher (or the chair of governors if you are a headteacher).
If you are going to a country without an ‘air bridge’ and/ or the air bridge is removed you will be required to quarantine for 14 days on your return.
If you are required to quarantine and are well and can work from home then you should do so.
If your job is not suitable to be carried out from home then your line manager will talk to you about undertaking other suitable tasks whilst you quarantine. If having explored possible alternatives there are no suitable alternative tasks that you can do from home, then the Headteacher may decide that you may need to take unpaid leave. This would also apply if you are quarantined abroad or are unable to return to the UK.
You should discuss any future holiday plans with your Headteacher before you make any holiday bookings to seek agreement for you to work from home during any quarantine period that may occur. Headteachers are under no obligation to agree requests. Any bookings made without speaking to your Headteacher first could have pay or contractual implications if you are unable to be available during your normal contracted working time.
Someone in my household is having an operation and they have been advised that they and everyone within the household has to self-isolate 14 days prior to their operation. What does this mean for me?
If you have been advised to self-isolate as a result of somebody in your household due to have an operation, then you must follow this advice for health and safety reasons.
You should notify your headteacher of the situation, and if possible, you should work from home. If you are not able to work from home due to your role, then there may be alternative options, which you should discuss with your headteacher. If there are no alternative options to aid you in working from home you will receive normal pay while you are self-isolating
I have care responsibilities for someone who has a cough or fever or who has contracted Coronavirus, what should I do?
If you are caring for someone who has Coronavirus or who has Coronavirus symptoms then speak to your Head teacher about how they can support you by putting in place flexible working arrangements – this could include working from home or adapting work patterns. You may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
My child's school has closed – what do I do?
Speak to your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team. They will need to consider the latest government guidance and bear in mind the role you are in. If it is possible for you to work from home, you might be able to flex your hours to work around your children including during naps, in the evenings or outside normal work hours if this helps.
If your role does not allow you to work from home, you may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
I have care responsibilities for someone in my household who is in a vulnerable category but does not have symptoms - what do I do?
Speak to your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team. They will need to consider the latest Government guidance and bear in mind the role you are in. If it is possible for you to work from home, you might be able to flex your hours to work around your caring responsibilities including during naps, in the evenings or outside normal work hours if this helps.
If your role does not allow you to work from home, you may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
Will I be asked to cancel my pre-booked annual leave?
For non-term time only staff who have booked annual leave, it may be necessary for your manager to have a conversation with you about cancelling upcoming leave, should the needs of the school require it. If you are asked and agree to cancel your annual leave, the restriction on carrying over of five days annual leave (for Bucks pay – Schools staff) will be relaxed.
As much notice will be given as possible if this situation arises and being mindful of the needs of our employees to take regular breaks from the workplace in order to protect their own health and wellbeing.
What happens to my leave if my planned holiday is either cancelled by me or by a holiday operator because of Coronavirus?
For non-term time only staff the headteacher may decide that your holiday will be re-credited even where this means that you will carry forward more than 5 days leave.
We are seeing unprecedented times, there are many things to consider in this ever changing situation. It’s important to try and be as flexible as we can, while maintaining safeguarding standards to ensure we can still carry out the work that needs to happen whilst all of this is going on. Further information can be obtained by e mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are recruiting a Headteacher to a maintained school, please ensure that you contact School Improvement Advisor Naureen Kausar at email@example.com for advice, support and for LA representation.
Should I continue to advertise my vacancies?
Yes, you should still continue with your recruitment activities, you will need to consider different ways in which you conduct interviews and assessments
What can we do instead of schools tours?
Whilst it is important to give candidates tours of the school so they can get a feel for the culture and speak to staff and pupils, you can still give candidates an opportunity to speak with the Headteacher or Chair of Governors or other members of staff virtually. You can also direct candidates to view your school website to find out more, if you have videos or images of the school, that’s also a good way for them to view the school.
You may also consider having a virtual tour with candidates via facetime or MS teams on your phone/laptop.
How can we interview and assess during this time?
You should consider continuing with remote interviewing. Whilst lockdown restrictions are easing and pupils are going back to school from September, it is still important to keep contact to a minimum where possible. There have been great examples of positive feedback about the remote interviewing process within our schools and where possible this can continue.
Remote interview guidance can be found on Schoolsweb, schools bulletin and by asking a member of the school improvement team or contacting the resourcing team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information will be made available shortly.
Do we still have to do safeguarding checks?
Yes, it remains essential that people who are unsuitable are not allowed to enter the children’s workforce or gain access to children. Please see full guidance on safer recruitment during this period in the safeguarding section of FAQs.
For information on the furlough scheme, see the Furlough and Financial Support Section (updated November 2020).
What will happen with performance management arrangements for teachers?
The DfE’s School Workforce Q&A confirms that maintained schools must continue to adhere to the school teachers' pay and conditions statutory guidance. This includes the requirement to ensure that all pay progression for teachers is linked to performance management.
However, DfE expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps, to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances.
This could include basing performance on the period schools were open, adjusting, if necessary, for expected trajectory had there been no closures.
View the performance management guidance.
What will happen with appraisal arrangements for support staff?
The appraisal cycle for staff on Bucks pay (schools) normally runs from 1 April to 31 March each year.
Appraisal arrangements for support staff should continue as normal from 1 September. It may be necessary to adjust objectives and outcomes to take account of the period of school closures.
Please seek advice from the HR Consultancy and Advisory team if you need more specific support.
I have incurred costs due to coronavirus, what can you do to help?
We need to understand the direct additional costs of coronavirus, so any spend specifically because of coronavirus will need to be agreed under the normal procurement processes.
Where the spend is directly related to coronavirus, e.g. you have had to purchase additional equipment, then you must also let your School Business Manager know in advance so that the cost can be agreed and funded by the school.
See the Finance section for more details.
What advice is available for educational staff from overseas?
If you are, or work with, staff from overseas who have immigration concerns, you should follow government guidance about visas and immigration.
If you are, or work with, staff from overseas who have questions about travelling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, you should follow government guidance for education staff.
You can recall foreign nationals who have returned home. However, you should notifiy them asap to give them time to make necessary arrangements (e.g. book flights). Bear in mind that there are indications from the Government that those coming from abroad will have to self-isolate for 14 days so will not be available to attend work immediately upon their return.
Staff from overseas who have immigration concerns should follow government guidance about visas and immigration. Extensions are being granted for those whose visa expires up to 31 May 2020
Can we use agency/supply staff/casual staff?
Supply staff and other temporary workers can move between schools, but Headteachers will want to consider how to minimise the number of visitors to the school where possible. Where it is necessary to use supply staff and to welcome visitors to the school such as peripatetic teachers, those individuals will be expected to comply with the school’s arrangements for managing and minimising risk, including taking particular care to maintain distance from other staff and pupils.
To minimise the numbers of temporary staff entering the school premises, and secure best value, schools may wish to use longer assignments with supply teachers and agree a minimum number of hours across the academic year.
This advice for supply teachers also applies to other temporary staff working in schools such as support staff working on a supply basis, peripatetic teachers such as sports coaches, and those engaged to deliver before and after school clubs.
Can we change working patterns of staff to meet needs?
Yes. Where schools may be having staggered break times and lunchtimes it may be necessary to review working patterns, both to ensure that classes are properly covered and to ensure that staff have a reasonable break during their working day.
You will need to discuss any proposed changes with staff individually. It may be necessary and would be reasonable to temporarily adjust working times and this will be part of the planning you discuss and agree with staff to enable provision to be delivered.
Headteachers/managers will have to take individual circumstances into account and ensure staff have appropriate breaks, but it is expected that staff will cooperate with reasonable adjustments
Is the school liable if a member of staff contracts Covid-19 from a pupil?
The priority in opening schools is to put in place all possible measures, including Health & Safety Risk Assessments to minimse the risk of infection. A model health and safety risk assessment form is available from the Health and Safety team.
In most cases, someone who contracts the virus will be off sick, receive sick pay and then get well and return to work. In the regrettable case of a death as a result of the virus, this may lead to a claim (through your insurers). It is impossible to determine the outcome but the school’s written Health & Safety Risk Assessment and plans will be key important factors so it is essential to keep an audit trail of actions taken to follow the guidance issued.
In addition, there is concern about potential action by staff and the Trade Unions for example for breaches of duty of care and if a detriment is suffered as a result of refusing to attend a perceived unsafe workplace. The outcomes of any such potential actions are unknown, but following the above advice and government guidance, talking to staff and their union representatives as well as keeping the audit trail mentioned above will help to demonstrate efforts made to fulfil an employer’s “duty of care” obligations
Can we proceed with face to face formal hearings (e.g. disciplinary)?
When schools fully re-opened on 1 September, all of the usual processes went back into place.
As a result face to face formal hearings and management meetings can re-commence, with appropriate social distancing arrangements in place.
If circumstances arise that it is not possible or practical to convene a meeting face to face (participants are having to self-isolate for example) then with the agreement of all parties video conferencing can be used.
A member of my staff is pregnant and unwilling to return to work in September. What should I do?
Government advice is that employees in the clinically vulnerable category (which includes pregnancy) should be able to return to their job in school provided the school has followed the advice set out in the current government guidance.
You will need to talk to the member of staff to better understand their concerns and to re-assure them of all the steps that have been taken to ensure the safety of staff. Explain that you will need to undertake an individual health and safety risk assessment of the member of staff and arrange for them to be referred to Occupational health to seek reassurance and to check if there are any underlying health conditions which may affect their return to work.
The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) has published occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women. This document includes advice for women from 28 weeks gestation or with underlying health conditions who may be at greater risk. We advise employers and pregnant women to follow this advice and to continue to monitor for future updates to it.
Can you clarify the guidance around the ‘clinically vulnerable’ and ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’?
The Government guidance clarifies ‘clinically vulnerable’ and ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ as detailed below.
Clinically vulnerable people could be at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They should take extra care to follow guidance and minimise their contact with others.
Clinically vulnerable people are those who are:
- aged 70 or over (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) mild to moderate 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, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
- a weakened immune system as the result of certain conditions or medicines they are taking (such as steroid tablets)
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
View guidance about protecting people more at risk from coronavirus (via gov.uk)
Clinically extremely vulnerable people will previously have received a letter from the NHS or their GP telling them they are in this group – they may have been advised to shield in the previous lockdown. This guidance applies only to the clinically extremely vulnerable individual, and not to others living in their household – who should follow the general advice and guidance.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to:
- stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend essential health appointments
- work from home. If you cannot work from home, you should not attend work for the period of lockdown
- avoid all non-essential travel by private or public transport
- not go to the shops for essentials or medicine. They are encouraged to order online or ask someone to go for them
Can you please confirm the process for flu jabs for staff this year?
Buckinghamshire Council has maintained the intention to provide free flu jabs to all staff in local authority maintained schools this year, given the unprecedented dual threat to education and the NHS posed by COVID-19 and seasonal influenza.
National vaccine supply problems have delayed any definite announcement up until now, because we did not want to make an offer which could not be reasonably fulfilled by primary care providers. For the same reason, it has not been possible to offer a free flu jab voucher programme this year.
However, the council can now officially make the offer to schools that we will refund the cost of any and all Buckinghamshire LA-maintained school staff flu jabs for the 2020/21 flu season, to a maximum of £13 per flu jab.
To avoid an administrative gridlock, we are asking schools to take responsibility for either providing their staff flu jabs (through bespoke clinics organised with local pharmacies), or collating receipts from staff who have independently obtained a flu jab, in order to claim their costs back from the council.
Schools will therefore be asked to submit totals to email@example.com for reimbursement. Reimbursement requests will be accepted and honoured (once per school) during the month of March 2021.
This request must include:
- the amount of reimbursement requested
- the number of staff flu vaccines this represents (max £13 per flu jab)
- confirmation that the school has verified receipts for any flu jabs which they did not personally organise
- confirmation that they are not claiming for any staff members who are already eligible for a free NHS flu jab due to age (above 50yrs, pregnant, medical conditions etc)
All school staff are encouraged to get a seasonal flu jab, but are also cautioned that GPs and community pharmacies have been instructed to prioritise high risk groups.
We are working with local primary care providers to encourage the inclusion of school staff within that group, but would still recommend that you contact your local pharmacy to check availability before showing up.
What should I do if I am concerned about the mental health of a colleague during lockdown?
We should be checking on each other through these difficult times, don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are, but also take time to listen to their answer.
If anyone is concerned about a colleague, or are experiencing issues with their own mental health, there is lots of guidance and support on Schoolsweb.
You should also speak to your manager for guidance.
What is long COVID, and how should I support a colleague who may be suffering with this?
‘Long COVID’ (also known as Post-COVID-19 Syndrome) is a condition that we are still learning about, but based on many reports from sufferers it can present as a wide range of persistent symptoms which began during or following COVID-19 infection.
These symptoms appear to range from mild (ongoing changes to the sense of taste and/or smell) to moderate (persistent shortness of breath, for example), and the support a person requires – if any – will depend on what type of symptoms they have.
Long COVID is not contagious, and; with the exception of a fever (which could indicate continuing infectious potential) even if someone who tested positive for COVID-19 has persistent symptoms after their 10 days of self-isolation they can still return to their life and work as normal.