Health and Safety News School support staff

UNISON survey shows members’ worries about schools return and need for effective union involvement

As the Scottish Government starts planning for schools to return on 11th August, UNISON’s survey of over 5000 school support staff members has shown clearly that members are very concerned about their safety.

These findings reflect the concerns raised by our members locally and the lack of discussion and consultation with local government trade unions, who have the bulk of school staff in membership.

UNISON has warned that planning and guidance has to be implemented properly to be effective and that will need effective trade union involvement in local planning and decision making.  Employers cannot treat staff and staffing issues as an afterthought.

As well as the Scottish Government’s plan for schools to return on August 11th, some staff are already working in hubs. There appears to be an expectation that early learning and childcare provision will continue and indeed scale up over the summer.

There is little published detail or guidance as yet on the education recovery process as most of this will be done at authority and school level. This is expected very soon. There is a commitment that Councils and Head Teachers will work in close partnership with trade unions and that UNISON will lead that work.

Following representations from Inez Kirk, Branch Secretary, Aberdeenshire Director of Education and Children’s Services, Laurence Findlay has pledged to work with the local government unions as well as the teaching unions.

At Scottish level, UNISON is involved in a range of strategic groups with the Scottish Government and COSLA as they plan the easing of lockdown. Our aim in these groups is to ensure the safety of staff who are currently working and other workers as they return to workplaces in the coming weeks and months.

As guidance is agreed and published it will be shared with branches.

The UNISON Scotland survey of members showed that:

  • 83% are “worried” or “very worried” about returning to work and/or increasing numbers of children returning to establishments. Of those people 13% are losing sleep worrying about it. Only 3% felt fully confident
  • Less than a fifth felt that their setting had the staff, resources and expertise to ensure all health and safety measure and risk assessments are in place
  • Just under a quarter felt that establishments were cleaned often enough to keep them safe from Covid 19
  • They are also deeply concerned about transmission from a-symptomatic children/parents and how effective infection control procedures can be put into place for those working with children.

UNISON will raise these findings are raised in our ongoing discussion with the Scottish Government and COSLA.

The key issuesfor the branch will be

  • Testing, tracing and isolation (TTI) needs to be in place to ensure children are not bringing Covid-19 into schools
  • Appropriate guidance round safety and infection control needs to be in place
  • Guidance needs to  be implemented  in settings
  • Risk assessments need to be done for settings but also for some staff who have specific health concerns and for some pupils
  • Training for staff on new ways of working re COVID-19
  • Cleaning plans and supplies for COVID-19: who what when how often?
  • Appropriate PPE: what it is for settings and staff?  PPE supplies need to then be available in appropriate quantities
  • Decision need to be made about the safe capacity of individual settings.
  • Space in school office? Should admin and clerical staff continue to work from home. What support and equipment will they need.
  • Safe drop off and collection plans need to be organised
  • School transport plans need to be in place
  • Staff room space/cleaning needs to be reviewed
  • Equipment sharing; what can be shared and how is it kept clean?
  • Changes to staff/child ratios to meet COVID-19 new ways of working
  • Utilising more outdoor space: a great deal of work is needed to put more outdoor space into safe use.

The Scottish government has agreed that trade unions involvement is crucial to the ending of “lockdown”. We need to ensure that this is a reality on the ground.

If you are a school support staff member and have any queries, please email: