Coronavirus (COVID-19) and school closures: FAQs

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and schools: FAQs

Update: Tuesday 24 March 2020

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For our general members' advice on coronavirus - what it is and what you should know - click here

If I am working in school to support key workers’ children can I be asked to do a different job?

You should not be moved into a completely different role against your will, however your employer may ask you to cover additional duties in order for the children to be looked after safely.

Regarding deploying staff to different roles the guidance states that volunteers are sought first, but not be sought from employees 'who live with and / or have caring responsibilities for people in the vulnerable groups referenced above’. Training and risk assessments should be undertaken. 

If you are concerned about a different role talk to your line manager. If you still have concerns, contact GMB for advice.

What about being asked to supervise large groups?

Apart from in an emergency, for example if the teacher or HLTA present needs to pop out of the room or there is an emergency situation, the guidance states that:

'Employers should not require staff who do not have experience of supervising large groups of children as part of their usual role, to be doing so now without adequate support being provided'.  

If I am asked to carry out a different role does it affect my pay?

You should not earn any less than your normal contracted rate.

Employees 'should suffer no financial detriment', and anyone undertaking roles that are paid at a higher rate than their usual contracted rate should receive the higher rate of pay. 

There are fewer pupils from ‘key worker’ families in school than were expected, so how many staff should remain at school?

Employers should be using their discretion to determine which categories of employee are reasonably needed. 

So there should be no need for all staff to be in school, it is not business as usual. If they are not needed in school the government advice stands and staff should be at home. 

The school should arrange rotas and schedules to reduce the number of staff required on site while still providing safe care for children who need to attend.

With vastly reduced pupil numbers, there is no need for all staff to work on site each day.

Home working (where the role permits) for staff who don’t need to be in school should be in place to achieve the recommended social distancing.

As schools are being asked to open over Easter holidays do I have to go to work?

A small number of staff are going to be needed in school to ensure our frontline workers can continue to work through Easter to provide the services we all need.

It’s really helpful if staff can volunteer and of course these staff should be paid for these additional hours since they are outside of their contacted hours.

Again, schools should arrange rotas which should enable the children to be safely looked after. However, working at Easter is not in your contract, so the school should not be trying to force you to attend. 

Exactly which children are included in the list of ‘vulnerable children’?

Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, ‘looked after’ children, young carers, and children with education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Please click here if you require further information.

What happens if my school is closed?

If your school or workplace is closed but you are available to work, you therefore should be paid as normal. 

You may be asked to work at another school. We are talking to the DfE about transport arrangements should that be the case.  

What is a ‘key worker’?

Workers are classed as ‘key workers’ if their work has been deemed critical to the COVID-19 response. 
Please click here to access the current list of occupations defined as key workers. Be aware that this list is subject to change.  

What happens if I am a parent?

Parents who are key workers may be able to ensure their child is kept at home, and the guidelines say that every child who can be safely cared for at home should be. 

However, if you cannot keep your child safe at home then your children will be prioritised for education provision. 

The guidance asks that parents contact their child’s school to let them know that they believe they are a ‘key worker’, to ensure that the school is aware that you are requesting provision for your child.  

Will that be in their usual school?

Not necessarily. If your school is closed, then you should contact your local authority, who will seek to redirect you to a local school in your area that your child, or children, can attend. 

I’m in school catering - does this apply to me?

Based on the published guidelines we believe it should, since the guidance states that this includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery. 

We advise you talk to your employer and if you encounter any difficulties contact GMB for support.  

What if I’m in an ‘at risk’ group, or someone in my household is?

The guidance from the LGA is clear. Employees who are 'at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19' and who are being asked to be 'particularly stringent in following social distancing measures' should not be expected to attend the workplace.

All options for working at home should be considered, and this includes 'those employees who live with and / or have caring responsibilities for people in the two groups.' 

The ‘at risk ‘groups include you if you are :

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions) 
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds): 

o   chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis 

o   chronic heart disease, such as heart failure 

o   chronic kidney disease 

o   chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis 

o   chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy 

o   diabetes 

o   problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed 

o   a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy 

o   being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above) 

  • those who are pregnant 

What about pay and sick pay when absent from work?

The NJC ‘Green Book’ states that:  

“An employee who is prevented from attending work because of contact with infectious disease shall be entitled to receive normal pay. The period of absence on this account shall not be reckoned against the employee’s entitlements under this scheme.” 

In addition, quarantine or workplace closure should not count towards any accumulation of points towards Bradford Factor or any other ill-health disciplinary scheme.

If your employer does not subscribe to NJC terms and conditions and you require further information then please contact your GMB branch for support.

Will I still be paid if I am quarantined due to the Coronavirus?

With regards to employees attending work, GMB members working in local government have the following protections under the NJC ‘Green Book’ terms and conditions: 

“An employee who is prevented from attending work because of contact with infectious disease shall be entitled to receive normal pay. The period of absence on this account shall not be reckoned against the employee’s entitlements under this scheme” 

This means that if you are employed under green book terms and conditions which includes Local Government and Schools staff, including most academies, if you are required to self-isolate or are placed in quarantine, you should continue to receive your normal pay. 

If your employer does not subscribe to NJC terms and conditions and you require further information then please contact your GMB branch for support.

Where can I get the latest government advice for schools?

Guidance for schools is being regularly updated, so GMB advises members working in schools to keep up to date with this advice, by clicking on the following link. However, if you feel any of the advice is unclear or causes concern, contact your GMB branch for support. 


The DfE’s helpline for students, staff and parents can be contacted on: 0800 046 8687. Opening hours are: 8am - 6pm (Monday to Friday) & 10am – 4pm (Saturday & Sunday)   


What if a staff member or student develops Coronavirus?

Where children present with a temperature above 37.8’ or a continuous cough, they will need to be placed in an isolated area until they are collected.

There will need to be separate cubicles or significant distances kept between children (not every child will have COVID and there is a need to prevent cross contamination).  

Each school is likely to approach this in a different way as there is little national guidance at present, however with less pupils in school this should be possible.

Nevertheless we would expect that a risk assessment is undertaken for isolation in each school. This should be shared with the relevant staff involved.  

The area will need to be continuously monitored from a distance of at least 2m to ensure that staff members avoid exposure as far as possible.

If you in a group that has an increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), but are still in work, you should not have any contact with anyone who shows potential symptoms. 

Should medication be given to children with a temperature?

The normal school policy on administration of medicines should apply. Where PPE is available this must be worn, but if the task is no more than dispensing tablets/oral suspensions, this can be passed in sealed boxes and cleaned on return. 

What should my school be doing now?

Employers and managers in schools should be monitoring advice from Government, assessing risks to employees and pupils, reviewing their policies and procedures, considering additional safety measures, and communicating information to staff, pupils and parents as the situation develops. 

They should also conduct health and safety risk assessments, provide protective equipment and ensure the school is fully stocked with all necessary cleaning products. 

If I am required to work how can I continue to protect myself?

If unwell parents or carers turn up at schools, the only control is maintaining the 2m distance wherever possible, in addition to regularly washing hands for at least 20 seconds (including when entering the building).

Talk to your employer about risk assessments and any protective or cleaning equipment you believe you need.

Full details about the Coronavirus for GMB members is available on the following link, which provides an update for GMB members on controlling the risk of the Coronavirus, and full information on your Employers’ duty of care to reduce the risks from exposure to biological hazards to as low as is reasonably practicable.

If you have an underlying health condition talk to your employer about a risk assessment to decide whether you are safe to remain at school. 


What is the latest advice from Public Health England and the NHS?

Self-isolation advice  

  • If one person in any household has a persistent cough or fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days 
  • Those people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house "even to buy food or essentials" - but they may leave the house "for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others" once a day

If you are affected and need further guidance and support please contact GMB at publicservices@gmb.org.uk

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