UNISON and NEU point out Government Minister is wrong about legal advice on safety


IMPORTANT: This is the joint trade union email sent to all Schools and Leaders. 


“Dear XXX

We apologise for writing to you at such a difficult time. We know the intense pressure schools are under, both as a result of Covid-19 and because of the repeated sudden changes in Government policies.

However, yesterday the Department for Education (DfE) e-mailed you about recent advice UNISON and the National Education Union (NEU) gave its members on the safety of face-to-face teaching in schools.

This email followed Gavin Williamson saying in Parliament: ‘I’d like to thank both the National Education Union and UNISON for recognising the fact that the action that they took and the advice that they gave their members on Sunday was incorrect and that they have withdrawn that advice”. Gavin Williamson was simply wrong. At no point have UNISON or the NEU said the guidance and advice to members was incorrect.

That advice was issued before 4 January when Government was directing all schools to remain fully open to all pupils. On the 4 January, Government directed the closure of schools except for the attendance of vulnerable children and those of critical workers. Because of this radical change of Government direction, we removed the advice on section 44 from our websites. But this emphatically does not mean we believe face-to-face work with full or near full classes in schools is safe in the current circumstances – far from it. Neither does the removal of this advice from our websites indicate that we do not believe it was the right advice to give at the time.

Contrary to the impression given by the DfE circular, the existence of the new strain of the virus greatly exacerbates the serious risks to the health and safety of those working in schools. It is irrelevant that the new strain of the virus may not cause more serious illness in those children or adults who are infected by it. The increase in risk arises from the fact that the new strain is highly transmissible, between 50-74% more transmissible than pre-existing variations of Covid-19, according to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The historic data on infection rates among teachers referred to by the DfE fails to capture the greatly increased threat arising from the new strain.

It is because of the new strain that infection rates and the R number have dramatically increased since December. It was precisely because of the “increase in risk associated with the new variant” that SAGE recommended closing schools as part of a strategy of strengthening control measures at its meeting on 22 December. That is why the Government finally decided to close schools to most pupils; and that is why school staff faced a greater risk of catching Covid-19 than they did before. This is, or should be, obvious to the DfE and Government.

In that light, is completely inadequate for the DfE to assert that the existing controls in school “create an inherently safer [sic] environment for children, young people and staff” and that the “way to control this virus is the same, whatever the variant”. Members who work in schools have a right to work in a safe working environment, and workers who reasonably believe they are facing serious and imminent danger have the right to leave the workplace. The effect of those rights must be fundamentally reassessed owing to the greater risk of transmission posed by the new variant of Covid-19. The same applies to the existing control measures adopted in schools.

We only summarise the relevant legal provisions below. The key point is that all these legal duties must now be viewed in circumstances where Covid-19 is much more transmissible than it was before owing to the new strain.

  • Schools owe duties under s 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees. This includes a duty to provide work systems and work environments which are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health. Schools owe similar duties to others, who are not in their employment, under s.3 of the Act.
  • Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to health and safety affected by the conduct of the employer’s undertaking. The risk assessment must be reviewed whenever there is a “significant change in the matters to which it relates”. The new strain of Covid-19 triggers this duty.
  • Employers must establish appropriate procedures which enable employees to leave or stop work if they are exposed to serious, imminent and unavoidable dangers.
  • Measures for controlling risks to health and safety must be adopted in accordance with a hierarchy of measures set out in Schedule 1 to the 1999 Regulations. The primary duty is “avoiding risks”, followed by “evaluating risks which cannot be avoided” and then “combating the risks at source”. All these duties point towards avoiding face-to-face teaching and teaching on-line given the high risk of transmission posed by the new strain.
  • While there is a duty to provide suitable PPE to those who are exposed to risks to health and safety, this is only intended as a last resort, where a “risk has not adequately been controlled by other means”.
  • Schools owe duties to assess risks and to protect employees against exposure to biological agents, such as the new strain of Covid-19, under the COSSH Regulations 2002.
  • Employers must inform and consult with safety representatives under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977 (and the linked regulations where no union is recognised) on all matters to do with health and safety. This should include consultation on the appropriate steps to take in light of the risks posed by the new strain of Covid-19.
  • Finally, under sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are protected from detriment or dismissal where there exist circumstances of danger which they reasonably believe to be serious and imminent, and they leave or propose to leave, or otherwise refuse to return to their place of work. There are also protections under these provisions for those who take appropriate steps to protect themselves or others in circumstances which the employee reasonably believes amounts to a serious and imminent danger., These rights remain very relevant to those engaged in face-to-face work in schools, especially in light of the new strain of Covid-19. Employees must not be subjected to any disadvantage, such as deductions from pay, where they exercise these rights.

We hope that that this makes our position clear and corrects the impression given by the e-mail from the DfE.

Finally we would like to show our appreciation for the work of our sister head teachers unions NAHT and ASCL during this difficult period. We have shared this letter with them and know that they are as exasperated with the Government as you are.



Important update for Barnet UNISON members in schools.

Dear Member

UNISON National has responded to widespread calls for advice for all of our members working I schools, nurseries and early years settings.

The draft email below is for members to send to their Head Teacher.

Please copy in Barnet UNISON when you send in the email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

Model letter for UNISON members in schools, nurseries and early years in England


Dear [insert name of head/employer],

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[1] 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 [insert 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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 or alternative agreed duties at my grade that can be undertaken from my home, and to be in school supporting provision and the learning of key worker and vulnerable children where necessary.

Yours sincerely,

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/948606/s0991-sage-meeting-74-covid-19.pdf



Please note this advice applies to all primary schools, special schools, SEND and early years settings in England.

You can read the advice in full on the UNISON website here






Breaking News: Emergency Schools Zoom meeting for our members

Dear member

No surprisingly anxieties are running high with respect to the opening of schools etc from Monday morning.

We have a Government insistent on exposing workers to high risk of COVID to save face.

Nonetheless workers are wondering what they should do for the best.

The one thing we can offer is a safe space for colleagues to discuss their options and decide for themselves what they want to do.

I appreciate not everyone will be able to join in this zoom meeting but at least if we offer this early on in the day it gives an opportunity to contact others if we want to or need to.

Happy New Year everyone and see whoever can make our zoom meeting Sunday 3 January 2021 at 11am,


Barnet UNISON is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: BEYA TU zoom meeting

Time: Jan 3, 2021 11:00 AM London

Join Zoom Meeting details below.


Meeting ID: 870 4229 3661

Passcode: 481058

Breaking News: Monthly sessions with Payroll starts February 2021.

Dear Members

Barnet UNISON has had too many cases of members contacting us about payroll issues.

It is really important that you get the correct pay for the work you have done.

One of the biggest issues is understanding the pay slips.

I am pleased to announce that Street Scene are introducing monthly sessions with Pay roll.

These sessions will be run by the Capita HR Payroll Team.

The first session will take place on 10 February in the Pacific Room between 12:00pm and 14:00pm by appointment only.

The sessions will be for individuals to speak directly to payroll via a private video call.

Appointments will be available in 15 minute slots.

How to book a session?

You can book a session in advance by:

  • Requesting via your supervisor
  • Provide them your details, and
  • Provide them with any information you can about the question or issue you want to discuss.

Your supervisor will then make your booking on your behalf and let you know the time.

Now is the time to make sure you take up this opportunity to get answers to some of the questions you have about your pay and your pay slip.

If you want a UNISON rep with you please let us know what time your session is booked in order we can sit down with you in the meeting.

Telephone 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk


John Burgess

Branch Secretary





Update: Barnet Council responds to Coach Escorts














Dear Members

In response to my email to the Chief Executive and the signed statement by the majority of the coach escorts I have had the following response which I want to share with you all.


Briefing on the change of line-management of SEN Passenger Assistants

It has been agreed to transfer the line-management of SEN Passenger Assistants from Streetscene to the Transport Brokering Team in the BELS SEND and Inclusion service with effect from 1 January 2021.  The transfer is intended to achieve service improvements while also delivering management efficiency savings over time.


The decision will lead to improvements in the service as a result of closer integration with other SEN teams and better communications which will be of benefit to pupils with special educational needs, their parents/carers, schools and the passenger assistants themselves.  It will also enable BELS to deliver savings of £209,000 in 2021-22 rising to £229,000 in 22-23, as a result of management efficiencies.


In order to make the transfer as smooth as possible and to avoid any disruption or concerns about this leading to changes in terms and conditions for staff, it was decided that the staff should remain council employees and to commission BELS to provide line management for the service and to give them direct control of the staffing budget.


Staff will remain on LBB terms and conditions and there is no plan to change this.  No redundancies are envisaged.  It is not unusual to commission delivery partners to manage council staff.  BELS already managed the headteacher of the Virtual School, who is employed by the council (a legal requirement) and she in turn manages the staff of the Virtual School who are employed by BELS.  The Education Prevent Officer is employed by the council and managed by the BELS Safeguarding and Exclusions Manager.  The head of the Transport Brokering Team in BELS reports directly to the Director, SEND and Inclusion, who is on a joint contract with the council and BELS (on account of some of the functions she exercises being non-contractable).  BELS is a company wholly owned by the council.


Management of PAs by the SEN transport brokering team will provide a more streamlined conversation between the SEN teams, PAs, schools and parents about the needs of individual children and young people and how best to meet them and thus how to manage any safety and wellbeing issues.  The transfer will mean greater consistency of approach/strategies used by all the adults who support children and young people with very complex needs, with PAs being part of the SEN team.


The transfer will enable closer working with schools and settings, so that information about individual children can be readily shared with PAs.  This could include advice on behaviour management for individual children, as well as notifying the SEN Transport brokering team and the PAs of short or long-term changes in the child’s circumstances, including changes in health conditions.

The transfer will also lead to better planning and resilience for covering sickness and absence, which in turn will reduce the number of cancellations that have occurred during service delivery.  It will mean a rapid response to passengers’ issues, as the Brokering team will now have direct contact with the PAs, without having to go through a middle tier of PTS management, which has sometimes resulted in delays in response times and complaints from frustrated parents.

PAs will be able to access direct support and advice from specialist staff in BELS concerning individual children.  All the children and young people being transported and supported by PAs will be known to specialist Advisory Teachers and Educational Psychologists, who will be able to give advice on strategies to support the child. In effect, the Passenger Assistant will become a member of a ‘virtual team’ of adults working together to support the child, resulting in a holistic approach.

As the Brokering Team undertakes the risk assessment for SEN passengers, having the LBB PAs within their management control will lead to better understanding of requirements for PAs, ensuring the correct support and outcomes are achieved. 

IH/HP 10.12.20. “


On 16 December I emailed BELS to ask for a copy of the plans in place to ensure that all staff have adequate PPE for all coach escorts when schools reopen in January 2020.

I want to send my best wishes to all of our members working for Passenger Transport and can assure you all that next year Barnet UNISON will be looking out for our members.

BreakingNews: Will Barnet Council close schools early ?

Hi Ian

I am writing to you in your statutory role to ask if you are aware of the Greenwich Council decision which has appeared online this afternoon?

I attach a copy of the letter sent out to all Greenwich schools by the Leader of Greenwich Council.

Please note he states:

“I have asked all Schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as the first lockdown).”

Throughout the pandemic we have been advised that Barnet Council are working in line with London Councils. I am assuming this decision has been subject to some discussions with London Councils?

Given the increased likelihood of London going into Tier 3 and perhaps the 23 – 28 December initiative being limited for people living in London is Barnet Council going to try to mitigate the spread by following their lead?

I will be writing to over a thousand plus UNISON members working in Barnet Schools most of which are frightened at the increasing likelihood that there will be more infections in the last week of school and the negative impact it will have on their families.

Stay safe.

Best wishes

John Burgess

Branch Secretary.


0208 359 2088


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Update on the Barnet UNISON Term Time Pay Campaign

Dear members,

Firstly, I hope you, your family and friends are keeping well and have been coping through this protracted period of anxiety and isolation caused by Covid19.

Owing to the virus, Barnet UNISON’s work regarding the term-time pay dispute was temporarily curtailed. This impacted my job as campaign organiser.

I am pleased to tell you that I am now able to resume my union role.

Barnet UNISON remains committed to trying to gain the best possible outcome for all members who have been discriminated against as a result of the incorrect formula being used to calculate your pay.

Many of you have already completed and submitted a hard copy of the CASE form that we have passed on to the union’s solicitors who are dealing with this collective grievance.

There are, however, lots of members who did not respond to our previous communications or complete a form.

This may be because I was unable to secure a meeting in your school prior to lockdown owing to a lack of response from school management. Our branch Secretary, John Burgess, sent letters to all Head Teachers and members but we did not receive responses from everyone. In addition, growing concerns around the virus began to interrupt my work towards the end of February.

Action Plan:

  • The branch will commence a series of regular monthly updates on the campaign so please check your emails.
  • I will be making as much contact with members as I can to advise and guide you, and help you submit a CASE form to our solicitors.
  • Your particular school may have already rectified the formula and back-dated pay for a specific period of time. If this applies to you please let me know.
  • Accepting any changes to your pay does not in itself prohibit you from submitting a claim. However, we advise you against signing anything until you have sought advice from UNISON.

There is no guarantee that the branch will win exactly what we aim for on your behalf but there is strength in numbers. The more members who decide to make a claim as part of the collective grievance, the greater our chances of success.

I am unlikely to be able to visit any schools for the foreseeable future because of the rules regarding gatherings and social distancing. Now is, therefore, the time for you to organise yourselves. Please consider acting as a workplace convenor or co-convenor with one of your colleagues.

We have created a streamlined CASE form for completion online. You simply need to populate it and return as an attachment by email. I will be sharing detailed guidance on this soon. Please note, we are now unable to process paper copies of the form as we are not operating from the branch office.

If you require any further advice prior to the next communication from the branch, you can email me.

Take care & stay safe.

Kind Regards

Nadia Joseph

Term Time Pay Organiser





Passenger Escorts speak out about their fears

On Monday 30th November, 2020 at the Children, Education & Safeguarding Committee agreed to a savings proposal that moved the line management of Passenger Escorts from Barnet Council to the latest outsourcing organisation Barnet Education Learning and Skills (BELS).

This decision had not been discussed with the workforce. This service consists of a driver and a passenger escort. This proposal seeks to move from single line management of both staff to two line managers with the added complexity that the line manager for passenger escorts is not a Barnet Council employee.

Both UNISON and GMB objected to this decision and as you will see so did the workforce.

Over 90% of coach escorts signed the following statement

“Dear Mr Hooton

I have been told that as from 1 January 2021 I will no longer be managed by an employee of Barnet Council.

I was never asked for my opinion about this proposal.

I have worked through COVID and I continue to do my best for the children under very stressful circumstances because I love my job.

I don’t do this for the money.

I want to put on record that I want to be managed by a Barnet Council employee.


Barnet UNISON and GMB email to Barnet Council Chief Executive

Hi John

Mary and I are writing to you on behalf of all coach escorts about the decision to move their line management from Street Scene to Barnet Education and Learning Service (BELS).

Last week we both attended five meetings with our members (coach escorts) working for Passenger Transport and the BELS over the decision to transfer the line management of the coach escorts from Street Scene to BELS.

Unfortunately what may have seemed like a decision that would have no impact on the staff we have to report that this is not the case. If we had been consulted about this proposal we would have advised you of the likely impact such news would have on this workforce.

This is a low paid female workforce.

They are a frontline workforce that have been working out in the COVID workplace with all the stress that brings regardless of what a Risk Assessment may state about being COVID secure.

It is to their credit that they like many low paid staff get on with the job. If you and members of your senior management team have ever spend time with this workforce, which we have both done over the years, you will have been left in no doubt that their commitment lies with the children they accompany on behalf of Barnet Council.

Both Mary and I have been involved with this service over many years and in that time staff have seen changes to line management of the service.

UNISON and GMB have been regularly meeting with the operational management of this service for over five years and in that time we have seen things improve for drivers and coach escorts.

Almost two weeks ago the trade unions were contacted to attend a meeting where we were told that the line management was being handed to BELS.

The reaction from both trade unions and later the membership, was why?

Why is a two person team being split and handed over to another employer?

It is really important to understand that many of the staff have been around for a long time and have witnessed groups of Council workers first being split from their original service only to find out later they are being outsourced.

Barnet Council like it or not has a reputation for outsourcing services to a variety of different employers. These different employers offer new staff inferior Terms and Conditions with no access to LGPS.

We have a recent example of BELS (formerly Mott MacDonald), where the workforce were unaware of what was going on behind the scenes with Mott MacDonald and Barnet Council were suddenly plunged into uncertainty and stress at the announcement that Mott MacDonald wanted to terminate the contract.

As you know the majority of staff wanted to return to Barnet Council. Many of our members across our respective trade unions commented how unfair it was that workers were carrying out the same role but one had access to the LGPS and the others did not. This inequality was exacerbated was made worse by the fact that senior managers with joint appointment contacts, which provides entitlement to LGPS, were promoting the BELS model and against the in-house model.

It is within this backdrop of this recent decision and the news of this transfer of line management that members across PTS are speculating this is the first stage of an outsourcing agenda.

In the five meetings which took place last week staff they have been told the reason for the decision to change the line management is to enable the service to become more streamlined and to improve communication. Both Mary and I were unaware there were any issues. It would have been helpful to have been informed of these concerns.

In terms of having a more streamlined it would make more sense to bring the SEND service back in-house to Family Services, in that way we would have one organisation responsible for delivering this service just as it is in many local authorities across the UK.

This is why I have coach escorts asking if this is the first step before a TUPE transfer to BELS and now our drivers are also feeling threatened that they could be TUPEd to an external contractor.

It is important to add that in the meetings when it was raised senior management for LBB and BELS have all stated this decision is not about outsourcing.

However due our Councils recent history of outsourcing many fear this decision is an indication there is going to be a return to outsourcing in response to Government’s announcements about local government pay freezes.

Over the last ten years low paid staff have been made to pay for Austerity and it should be no surprise to you and that of your senior management team that they fear that it is coming back for them.

Our members have repeatedly asked us what they can do. They don’t want to be transferred.

UNISON and GMB agreed that we would write to you and the senior management team responsible for this decision.

Please find attached a statement signed by almost every coach escort. The engagement of this workforce on this matter should provide an indication of the strength of feeling about this transfer and their wish to line managed by a Council employee.

Stay safe.

Best wishes

John Burgess

Branch Secretary.


Barnet UNISON: Who are the Clinically Vulnerable?

Press release: Clinically extremely vulnerable receive updated guidance in line with new national restrictions

Further precautions advised on top of the tougher national measures being introduced, as cases continue to rise.

Those with the following conditions fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable group:

  • solid organ transplant recipients
  • people with specific cancers:
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
    • people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
    • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
    • people having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • people with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), homozygous sickle cell)
  • people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection adults with Down’s syndrome
  • adults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (Stage 5)
  • women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
  • other people who have also been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, based on clinical judgement and an assessment of their needs. GPs and hospital clinicians have been provided with guidance to support these decision



Latest update added to clinical extremely vulnerable:


We now have evidence to suggest that those with chronic kidney disease (stage 5) and those undergoing dialysis, as well as adults with Down’s Syndrome, are at higher risk from COVID-19 than the general population and therefore the Chief Medical Officer has advised they follow the new guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable. We have asked the NHS to begin the process of identifying and contacting all those affected, providing them with the latest advice”.


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