8th March Return: What’s the Rush?
UCU officers spent Friday afternoon meeting with CCCG senior management, making the case for slowing down the return to face-to-face teaching. Management refused to consider a return after Easter, arguing that they were constrained by government guidelines.
UCU reps have spent many hours in meetings this week and raised numerous, detailed points relating to safety. Last Thursday’s cross-college cross-union meeting revealed the scale of fear and anger that members are feeling.
WHAT’S THE RUSH?
Government guidelines give room for us to make sure that the process of returning is safe and well-organised.
We are extremely disappointed to have to report that there has been no movement to delay arrangements for those courses scheduled to return on the 8th. What was presented as a “proposal” has not been changed. In many instances, important details as to how the return will be organised have not been provided so that there are still real concerns about the safety of the 16-18 courses.
That said, there has been more flexibility in other areas, mainly for Adult provision. We will continue to lobby for safe procedures and delayed starts. Please let your local rep know your concerns.
Personal Risk Assessments and a safe return to work
What we want
As previously reported, your union reps have been arguing for HR to make a commitment to protect the following groups of staff by allowing them to continue to work remotely until such time as their first vaccination has taken effect:
· aged 60 or over
· with a condition that puts you at higher risk (clinically vulnerable)
· main carers for someone at high risk from coronavirus
Plus, additional consideration for those aged 50+ and people who share a household or caring responsibility with clinically vulnerable people.
Why would a caring employer put their staff at unnecessary risk when a much safer situation (ie post 1st vaccine) is in clear sight? By the time we get to after the Easter break then most of these groups will have already had their first jab and, IF Johnson’s road map goes to plan, then our reduced ‘world’ will be a slightly safer place.
NB: If you fall into one of the above groups, you may use the link below to get a vaccine appointment. This can be an alternative to waiting for the notification from your GP. It is possible that this link might not automatically work for some clinically vulnerable people, but we are reliably informed that this link is also working NOW for the next vaccination group – ie those aged 55+. Book a coronavirus vaccination
What HR say
HR have said they will NOT be taking a ‘blanket approach’. Anyone who has any concerns should raise them with their Line Manager. If appropriate mitigation arrangements cannot be agreed with LM then these concerns will be passed up to the local HR Business Partner (for WKC, this is Ollia Alexis).
What happens next
We urge you to complete the new Risk Assessment form. Log all your concerns on the form (in the Discussions box). Complete again and resubmit the form if your concerns have ‘changed’.
Ask (on the form) to be allowed to remain working from home until your first vaccine takes effect – or whatever your own conditions for return to work might be.
Do not agree to anything you don’t want to agree with.
We also advise members to consider doing an online risk assessment if they have reason to believe:
- Their rooms or work patterns have been changed since they last completed a risk assessment
- Their personal circumstances have changed (and also including for example circumstances of partners or other family members who are shielding. Remember that the list of those shielding has been increased).
- They have been asked to come in when they are not required for face-to-face interactions.
If you complete a risk assessment, you should not return to the building until your manager has responded to it. If there is disagreement, you should contact HR and your local UCU rep.
Those who are CEV are not required to return before 29 March at the earliest.
UCU response to Prime Minister’s statement
22 February 2021
UCU said any wider reopening of college and university campuses from 8 March is irresponsible and risks undoing the country’s hard work to get Covid-19 rates down.
The union called on employers to use common sense and keep teaching online wherever possible to reduce the risk of further Covid-19 outbreaks. It said that for many courses this would mean there should mean no return to on-campus activity this academic year.
Where courses do require an element of in-person teaching, the union said employers must meet with UCU health and safety representatives to agree new risk assessments to protect staff, students and the wider community. It said assessments need to take account of a number of factors including the increased transmissibility of new variants, ventilation, PPE and how to support workers who need to shield. It also raised concerns over the potential use of unreliable lateral flow tests.
UCU said that where staff feel their health and safety is being put at risk, it will support members to fight to protect themselves, colleagues and students, including through industrial action ballots.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The prime minister seems to be pushing ahead with an irresponsible reopening of schools, colleges and universities at the same time. Pushing students and staff back onsite increases the risk of more Covid outbreaks and threatens to undo the country’s hard work to get infection rates down.
‘Lateral flow tests are completely unsuitable for testing on campuses. They are unreliable and incorrect negative results may give people a false sense of security, increasing the risk outbreaks. The government must not use them to reopen campuses.
‘We expect employers to keep teaching online wherever possible to prevent campuses from seeding the virus. For many courses this will mean no return to campus this academic year. UCU accepts that some university and college courses will need some in-person teaching but this needs to be very carefully managed to keep staff and students safe. Employers will need to agree new risk assessments with our health and safety representatives that take account of increased transmission rates of new variants, ventilation, PPE and how vulnerable employees will be supported to stay off campus.
‘Employers must work with us to protect staff and student safety. If our members feel that their health and safety is being put at risk, then we will support them to protect themselves, including through balloting for industrial action where necessary.’
The following statement was published by the CEO on 8 January2021 following lengthy and detailed negotiations with UCU, UNISON and NEU reps from WKC, CANDI and CONEL
This next six to ten weeks will be the hardest for our communities since the pandemic began and the external news will continue to be grim. The NHS is under threat and we cannot underestimate the disruption that may occur in the coming weeks. We are now entering the most difficult phase of this pandemic and our home working. I want to ensure we work as one to protect one another’s mental health, provide flexibility to our workdays, and ensure that we all pace ourselves and do not work into the evening. My commitment to you is that we will work around your specific circumstances to ensure you are empowered to align your online work responsibilities with your personal responsibilities.
Over the past nine months our teaching staff have become highly proficient in offering a blended learning model. I am confident we can, for the duration of the lockdown, offer comprehensive online teaching to our students. We will follow a “willing and able” theme. Physical and mental health considerations, as well as the routines of everyday life, won’t allow us to simply replicate the delivery structures that we would normally work to on site. If you have concerns about how to readjust your delivery of your course online, attendance at weekly meetings and the like, speak to your lead manager. Flexibility is the key to enable us to continue our educational responsibilities.
I trust you to make the correct decisions for our students and for you and your family. If ever there was a time for us to work as one, it is now – we all need to focus on what will allow each of us to best motivate and teach our students, whilst at the same time providing flexibility to work around the challenges of working from home.
We have allowed this week and next to focus on adjusting to home working – I am hoping that by Monday the 18th, the majority of teaching and support staff will have had any conversations they require with their manager and HR, and that we can be offering a consistently robust service to all our students.
Update Posted 6 Jan 2021. It has been a chaotic few days. Boris Johnson’s announcement of a third national lockdown including schools and colleges is a welcome one. A huge congratulations to NEU members, reps and the leadership for playing a significant part in forcing the government’s U-turn.
All unions (NEU, UNISON and UCU) across the CCCG are holding a joint meeting on Thursday 7 January at 5.00 pm. Please make every effort to join the meeting to discuss very important issues such as online teaching expectations, exam arrangements and health and safety concerns. A link to the meeting has been sent to members’ college email accounts.
The following Classroom and Support Staff Operations for Term 1 2020 were published by the CEO on 26 August 2020, following lengthy and detailed negotiations with UCU, UNISON and NEU reps from WKC, CANDI and CONEL.
It is clear that all colleagues recognise that face to face learning should begin with learners from September. The balance of face to face and remote learning has been well planned and set into the timetables.
There have been many discussions with Union colleagues, staff, managers and students over the last week and we are now better placed on the most appropriate safety measures for the start of term. On balance, because of the volume of adult learners, BAME staff, and, learners and the estate configuration, we need a model that goes further than current DfE Government guidance for education.
In order to maximise the benefits to learners of face to face learning and protect all teachers and support staff, we should now plan and adjust classrooms for the volumes of learners which each teaching space can accommodate. This will not be based on normal pre-Covid-19 class size. Each teaching space should be laid out based on a 1m+ mitigation model.
This means that students will be seated at least 1m spacing (1m spacing between bodies as commonly understood definition of social distancing) and where this is not possible, the room capacity will be revised down to the point where 1m spacing is achieved.
In this 1m+ model students should wear face coverings in the classroom. This is in line with other Government guidance on social distancing.
In reviewing further changes to Government guidance and our estate with its narrow corridors and small communal spaces including toilets, we will require staff and learners to wear face coverings in these areas of the estate and wherever 2m social distancing can’t be maintained.
All support staff interactions with learners should be remote or with social distancing and appropriate PPE.”
The following motion was then subsequently passed NEM CON (one abstention, no votes against) at our UCU AGM, on 28 August 2020, attended by 130 members:
“This joint branch meeting believes that students gain a far more fulfilling education when being taught in the classroom and are socially interacting face to face with their teachers. UCU looks forward to being able to resume face to face teaching as long as it is safe to do so. However, our first priority will always be the health and safety of our members, our students and the wider staff body.
We welcome the college adopting a 1m+ mitigation model in the classroom and the insistence on the wearing of face coverings and the provision of proper PPE. However, we also recognise that the details laid out by the CEO this morning in his ‘Classroom & Support Staff Operations’ document, still have to be fully implemented to the satisfaction of our members.
Consequently, in the event that classrooms are deemed to be over capacity and management refuse to make the necessary changes, staff will feel that it is not yet safe to return to face to face teaching and will continue to teach all classes remotely.”
The CCCG Coronavirus Risk Assessment can be found here:https://fecollegeslondon.sharepoint.com/:w:/r/sites/centralservices/management/_layouts/15/Doc.aspx?sourcedoc=%7BF50BE57C-AA37-472B-8C4F-86A03973C4C4%7D&file=CCCG%20Coronavirus%20V2%20Return%20to%20Work%20RA.doc&action=default&mobileredirect=true