Covid rules ‘open to abuse’ as unions tell workers: You can stay away for 28 days without a sick note

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The Department for Education has told headteachers they may need to combine classes to redeploy teachers to cover lessons in order to keep schools open if staff sickness spirals out of control.

However, the NEU briefing document said that classes should not be mixed since this would “increase virus transmission” and added that teachers should not be “routinely expected” to cover classes, advising that if they are, this should be “urgently raised” with their union.

The document is also backed by the NASUWT union as well as Unite, GMB and Unison, whose members include teaching assistants and other school staff.

Family groups and MPs have warned that this “inflexible and militant attitude” is likely to keep more children out of the classroom.

“It’s incredible to see these unions suggest something that goes so far beyond what the Government has required for schools,” said Liz Cole, the co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem. “This is desperately unfair to children and plunges them back into a pandemic straitjacket.”

The current government guidance states that children should be off school only if they have tested positive or if they are showing Covid symptoms.

However, the unions said that pupils should isolate if one of their family members has tested positive, and only return to school if they have received a negative PCR result.

“Where close contacts are unable to get hold of [lateral flow devices] due to supply issues, they should be supported to work from home for the isolation period,” it says.

Steve Brine, a Tory MP and former health minister, said: “This is the drip, drip of getting some people to the place they always wanted to be and it’s the kids who lose out.”

The unions’ advice document, which was sent to their members this week, suggested that bubbles should be reintroduced, saying that that schools should take measures to “minimise mixing, for example keeping groups as consistent as possible”.

It added that teachers “should not routinely be expected to cover for absent colleagues, nor should they be expected to teach pupils who they have not been assigned to teach”.

It advised that break times and lunch, as well as the start and end of the day should be staggered, and any large in-person gatherings such as whole school assemblies should be banned.

On Wednesday night, it emerged that Kensington Aldridge Academy, a secondary school in west London, is introducing detentions for children who do not wear masks during lessons.

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