H&S fears for prison educators (17 Nov 2020)

MP highlights health and safety fears for prison educators as prison Covid cases jump

17 November 2020

Grahame Morris MP has today raised concerns from prison educators over management ignoring national guidance on Covid health and safety, with the Labour MP for Easington accusing some prisons of watering down national guidelines to keep educators in classrooms.

The concerns were raised as the BBC reported there were more cases of Covid-19 in prisons last month than the previous seven combined.

The government created new guidance to protect the health and safety of offenders and staff during the Covid pandemic, which includes specific restrictions on in-person teaching during high Covid threat levels. Last week UCU wrote to all prison providers and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service after prison educators reported concerns. The letter includes a number of measures providers must take to protect the health and safety of staff.

Grahame Morris said: ‘In prisons, I’m told that some governors have tweaked their exceptional delivery models to permit classroom-based education, despite national guidance that says this must not happen while Covid threat levels remain high.’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff in prisons are being failed by providers who have chosen to prioritise contractual provisions over staff safety. We are concerned that governors have changed national frameworks set out by government to protect offenders and staff during the pandemic, and ministers have not done enough to stop them. This is especially worrying as prisons have seen an unprecedented rise of Covid cases in the last month.’

‘Time and again, prison educators are ignored, forgotten by prison governors and providers – that is always wrong, but to continue to neglect their safety throughout a public health crisis is completely unacceptable.

‘UCU members are committed to playing their part in keeping staff and learners safe. However, their safety cannot be guaranteed if providers can loosen restrictions created to stop Covid spreading through prisons. Staff need to be reassured that any decision to return to in-person teaching will only be made once it is safe to do so.

‘Ministers and providers now need to stop acting as if it is ‘business as usual’ – and put safety first.’

UCU Response to Westminster Government University admissions review

13 November 2020

UCU welcomed an announcement from education secretary Gavin Williamson for a post-qualification university admissions system. UCU was responding to government proposals to review the current system in England after years of campaigning by the union.

UCU has been at the forefront of calls for admissions reform having proposed a post-qualification application system that is student centred. The union released a poll earlier in the year that showed school, college and university leaders want to reform university admissions. It also published a report detailing how the admissions system could be overhauled, and highlighted that the UK is the only country to use predicted grades for university admissions.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It is good the Westminster government has belatedly listened to UCU and others in the sector after we have spent years campaigning for a post-qualification university admissions system. The evidence is overwhelming that the current system is fundamentally unfair and there is now a sector-wide consensus that things have to change.’

Union calls on Vice Chancellors to Move Learning Online

3 November 2020

The University and College Union (UCU) has written to vice-chancellors of universities in England* calling on them to move learning online now.

This follows updated guidance for England around the four week lockdown that said universities should ‘consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible’ and after repeated calls from UCU and Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), for a move away from in-person teaching.

UCU has collated over 35,000 cases of Covid on campuses across the UK. It has also launched a legal challenge to the government’s decision to ignore advice from SAGE to move learning at universities online.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Following updated guidance from the Westminster government, we are calling on vice-chancellors in England to exercise their autonomy and move all non-essential activities online now. Universities must not risk the health and safety of staff and students by allowing non-essential in-person activities to continue.  Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible.’

*Letter to VC’s in England

Dear Vice Chancellor,

Following the announcement of a four-week lockdown in England, and new government guidance stating that ‘universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible’, I am writing to ask that you exercise your autonomy as Vice Chancellor to move all non-essential in-person teaching online now as some institutions are doing, such as Sheffield Hallam, Essex and King’s.

We are all invested in lowering the R rate as quickly as possible. This virus moves when people move, and the government’s own modelling showed that in-person teaching is a key risk area. Reducing the amount of in-person teaching and travel to and from campus will minimise the spread of Covid-19 and keep people as safe as possible.

Best wishes

Dr Jo Grady

General Secretary, University and College Union