Education e-alert: Key considerations for schools
27 March 2020
What a difference a week makes...
The government is already looking at the impact of Coronavirus on education.
On 25 March 2020, The Commons Education Select Committee launched an inquiry to look at how members of the teaching profession will be supported financially and how a fair grading system will be implemented in light of the exam cancellations.
The Education sector is one of the best at adapting to change. Schools across the country have been open this week in line with the DfE request to care for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children. In the background, there are a number of other things going on and we would like to share our list of key considerations with you.
Weekend cover for children of critical workers
As we fast approach the weekend and some critical workers operate 24/7, schools are considering whether weekend cover can be facilitated.
Unfortunately, the DfE guidance is rather unclear on this at present and does not address whether schools should endeavour, where possible, to remain open for the children of critical workers (and/or vulnerable children) on Saturdays and Sundays.
In the absence of a current obligation or guidance, schools should put this question to the governing body for consideration, namely: the governors, the academy trust or local authority. Several factors will need to be taken into consideration, including demand for this service, staffing, safety and costs.
If your school only intends to open during 'normal school hours' Monday to Friday, it would be advisable to communicate this with any critical worker parents as soon as possible so that they understand that they will need to make other childcare arrangements at weekends.
For some schools, the reality of delivering a remote learning programme may be proving difficult, either due to limited access to technology at home or the age of pupils concerned. You may not therefore require all of your staff to work at this time.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) was announced by the government on 20 March 2020. The grant is available to UK employers and will cover 80% of the salary of retained workers who would otherwise have been laid off up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
This will apply to workers who agree to remain at home and are not undertaking any work for the school; the term for these employees is ‘furloughed workers’. Schools across the country will be looking at ways to reduce costs and this is one option that may avoid more radical steps being taken.
When considering placing staff on furlough, schools should ensure they've carefully considered the following:
- The process for placing staff on 'furlough'
- How to calculate furlough pay for different types of workers
- When to effect the changes
- The impact on holiday pay
- Whether staff are permitted to undertake a second job whilst on furlough leave
The Government has produced further guidance overnight, which is available here.
Our Employment Team would be happy to advise you on any specific queries and can assist with drafting the relevant documentation.
It is likely that decisions will need to be made at governor level over the coming weeks and the operating of full board meetings will also need to adapt quickly.
Your governors will not be gathering at school in the usual way and should instead meet remotely via telephone or video conference so that they are able to adhere to the guidance on self-isolation and social distancing. Your Clerk to Governors is probably best placed to co-ordinate the new arrangements and should begin to put steps in place now to ensure that board decisions can continue to be validly made.
Minute taking is important, but even more so at times like these. All governors should ensure that the minutes contain the reasons for any decisions made and that points of discussion are also accurately reflected.
Governors should remember the various hats that they are required to wear from the perspective of quite often being: company directors, charity trustees and school governors. You must ensure that the legal and best practice requirements of all three continue to be met.
Our Charity Law & Governance Team would be happy to advise on the specific arrangements under your governing document and any necessary changes required for remote governance at this time.
Summer Term 2020 fees
Independent schools will be thinking about whether to increase school fees for the next academic year. Usually notice of any increase in fees is sent with the summer Term invoice to parents so that a full Term's notice of the increase is provided.
In the circumstances, schools are considering a number of options, for example: freezing fees; and/or part payment of the summer Term 2020 fees.
The communications on this matter will be key both in relation to how the decision is presented to parents and whether any change is contractually binding and enforceable. We can assist with drafting these letters if they have not already been sent.
If you wish to reverse or amend a decision on fee increases which has already been made and communicated to the parent body, we can advise on the best way to do this in light of the specific terms of the Parent/School Contract.
Schools have been checking their business interruption/continuity insurance policies closely.
Several insurers have denied insurance because Coronavirus is not listed as a 'specified disease'. Well – it is a new virus.
We are working with a number of clients to push back on these initial decisions and to scrutinise the other terms of the insurance policy to see whether any cover is available.
If you would like us to review your existing policy documentation to see whether an insurance claim can be pursued further on behalf of your school, please do get in touch.
Ongoing internal proceedings
Schools will need to decide how they intend to deal with any ongoing internal proceedings that have been interrupted, for example: parental complaints; fixed-term or permanent exclusions; and/or internal investigations into bullying or peer-on-peer abuse.
Writing to inform parents of the school's intention and to explain the reason for the (in all likelihood extensive) delay in reaching a decision or conclusion will be important. If education is to be provided remotely to the child involved, the arrangements should be clarified.
This will need to be determined on a case by case basis. These processes should not be abandoned in light of the COVID-19 crisis, but instead dealt with remotely, if possible or clearly placed on hold with whatever reassurance about the future process as can be given at the relevant time.
Coronavirus (COVID-19): early years and childcare closures
published 24 March 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel advice for educational settings
updated 25 March 2020
School governance update
updated 25 March 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): attendance recording for educational settings
updated 26 March 2020
Please see the link to the COVID-19 Hub on the Wilsons website here. Articles from all departments will be uploaded to the website over the coming weeks.
If there is anything that we can do to assist either now or in due course, please do not hesitate to contact Vicky Wilson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01722 427 756 or your usual Wilsons contact.
We would be happy to help and wish you all the best in these unprecedented times.
The Education Team
This update is of a general nature and is not a substitute for professional advice. No responsibility can be accepted for the consequences of any action taken or refrained from as a result of what is said.