GMB calls for Kent schools to accept their health and safety responsibilities from June 1st
"All schools must disclose what they are doing to prevent Covid-19 exposure and spread and not concentrate on whether they can legally evade health and safety legislation" says GMB Union
GMB, the union for school support staff, is calling on Kent schools to accept their health and safety responsibilities.
An email  sent to all Kent school governors by Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director of Children, Young People and Educational at Kent County Council told schools they should not respond to union requests for information – despite those requests only being made to maximise protection of staff, pupils, parents and those who they live with.
GMB had written to all Kent Schools with a list of questions  to answer before reopening - all of which are paramount to ensure public safety.
In his email, Mr Dunkley tells governors they are “not obliged to complete the various templates and questionnaires requested” and “the parent has made the decision to send the child in and is therefore consenting...therefore, their case would need to be one of negligence."
Nick Day, GMB Membership Development Officer for Kent, said: “Telling schools the parent would be giving consent and then guiding headteachers not to answer our reasonable questions is grossly irresponsible.
“Mr Dunkley is assuming parents know the full risks without responding to our health and safety queries which I’m sure most parents will wish to know the answers to.
“All schools must disclose what they are doing to prevent coronavirus exposure and spread and not concentrate on whether they can legally evade health and safety legislation
"England’s infection rates are some of the worst in the world and four members of the Government’s SAGE committee have spoken out against plans to reopen schools.
“GMB’s message to our members is clear, if you feel that you cannot work safely then you must contact us immediately."
Media enquiries: GMB Press Office on 07958 156846 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors:
 Email from Matt Dunkley in full:
Over recent days I have been made aware that many of you have been contacted by unions, setting out their stance in respect of the Government’s proposals to increase the numbers of pupils attending schools and in many cases they have made explicit requests for information. Whilst it is important for all schools to maintain an open dialogue with the unions and it is wholly legitimate for unions to request information in respect of your school, you are not obliged to complete the various templates and questionnaires requested. I understand the pressures you are already under and to expect schools to respond to differing requests constantly will only create an unwelcome distraction as you manage your schools through this period.
You will all have access to the guidance issued by Government and the Local Authority and be undertaking your risk assessments with the safety and welfare of your colleagues and pupils at the forefront of any planning you do.
I would therefore advise you offer unions sight of the plans you have already produced in preparation for the 1st June and beyond, rather than try to accommodate all individual requests for information.
I can also assure you that there is regular communication between colleagues from within CYPE and KCC Human Resources with unions to discuss these issues.
Additionally, I am aware than many Headteachers have queried the issue of liability with their Area Education Officers following receipt of correspondence from unions. Therefore, I feel I need to clarify the position for schools from the Local Authority’s perspective.
For a child, the school owes a duty of care to the pupil in both loco parentis terms, and as a visitor to site. On the former, the parent has made the decision to send the child in and is therefore consenting. They will be as aware of the national issues and debates as the school. Therefore, their case would need to be one of negligence, that the school had fallen short of the standards that could reasonably be expected of it in the circumstances.
For staff, any claim would likely be, as suggested by unions, related to failures under Health and Safety at Work legislation to provide a safe working environment and appropriately consider and mitigate known risks. Any such claim would be made against the employer. Please remember that in Community and VC schools, by virtue of legislation, the Governing Body acts as the first employer, with KCC being the second employer, thus claims may well be made citing both employers. Governing Bodies, Academy Trusts and KCC all have corporate status and your school will have appropriate indemnity insurances in place. Therefore, it is essential communication within the school is clear and Governors are fully aware of the decisions being taking within the school.
If schools can demonstrate they have used best endeavours to adhere to Government and KCC guidance and engage fully in trying to implement appropriate safeguards through risk assessments etc, then their defences will be strong, and the Local Authority would support a school where a claim is brought forward.
It is also important to continue to remind ourselves, the unions and staff that schools across the Country have remained open, and have managed this situation with considerable professionalism since March.
We also need to think about how straightforward it would be for a claim to actually stand up. It is likely to need to prove with some degree of certainty that the person in question actually contracted COVID through working at the school/attending school.
Our message to all headteachers is you have been, and will continue to, manage this situation with safety of staff and pupils as the principal consideration. We are here to support you plan now and will continue to support you through this crisis.
 The letter sent to all Kent Schools from the GMB union can be found here: https://www.gmb.org.uk/sites/default/files/TEMPLATE%20REGION%20LETTER.doc
Will risk assessments be in place before any increase of pupil numbers?
Are there plans to ensure social distancing is maintained; with all pupils and staff to be kept 2m apart?
Is there a guaranteed supply of PPE for use where the risk assessment demonstrates a need, eg first aid, personal care, isolating pupils with symptoms, administering medication?
Are you confident there will be a guaranteed supply of hand washing and sanitising products?
Are arrangements in place for protecting vulnerable pupils and staff, and any vulnerable family members of pupils and staff?
Does the school have knowledge of plans locally for testing, tracing and isolating and how it will apply to our school?
Do you have arrangements for screening out staff or pupils exhibiting symptoms of the virus?
Are there plans in place for enhanced cleaning of workplaces?
Do you have procedures for travel such as parking, using public transport, car sharing given the 2 metre rule?
Do you have plans to enable families to maintain social distance at drop off/pick up times?