UCU raises Covid safety fears with England’s largest prison education provider 13 Jan 2021

UCU raises Covid safety fears with England’s largest prison education provider

13 January 2021

UCU lodged a failure to agree notice with Novus, the company responsible for education provision at over 50 prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales. The notice was lodged after education staff raised serious Covid-19 safety concerns with the union.

The dispute centres on Novus’s failure to meaningfully engage with UCU’s Covid-19 safety concerns during the latest lockdown. The notice means Novus must meet with UCU within 10 working days to avoid entering into a dispute. It gives the union a strong mandate to push Novus to begin engaging with staff over their concerns. If Novus continues to ignore staff concerns, the union will be forced to declare a dispute and will then consult with members over taking industrial action.

The failure to agree comes after Novus UCU branch members who attended a virtual emergency meeting on Monday voted overwhelmingly to escalate their health and safety concerns. UCU had previously written to Novus after the government set out new guidelines for prisons as part of the latest lockdown. In the letter the union set out a number of demands to make sure education is delivered safely, such as engaging with the union on new risk assessments, which take account of the new more virulent variant of Covid.

The chief executive of Novus, John Thornhill, emailed staff just before the union’s emergency meeting claiming UCU was wrong to say Novus is not following the new government guidelines. In the email he alleges that UCU’s demands are untested and Novus’s existing risk assessments are sufficient. He also said that Novus has ‘to balance the safety of staff with government expectations’, with which it has a contract to deliver learning to offenders. Today Mr Thornhill tweeted that UCU was creating stress and anxiety by deliberately misinforming prison educators.

UCU said Novus was choosing to put the delivery of contracts over staff and prisoner safety and that unless the company addressed its concerns it would consult with members over industrial action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Prison educators have done all they can to continue to support offenders throughout the Covid pandemic, all they are asking in return is for their employer to listen to safety concerns and reduce the risk of staff and learners catching Covid. It is incredible that instead of engaging with us, Novus chief executive John Thornhill has said that risk assessments put in place prior to the latest Covid wave, the discovery of the new Covid variant, and the most recent national lockdown are sufficient to protect his staff.

‘There is huge concern from staff that Mr Thornhill is willing to risk their safety to deliver on government contracts. Staff and learners are being put at risk due to Novus’ refusal to engage with us over how prison education can be delivered safely. Unless Novus comes to the table and engages with our demands, we will be forced to declare a dispute to protect staff and will then consult members over taking industrial action. Mr Thornhill should be concentrating on addressing staff concerns, rather than making baseless accusations on Twitter.’

UCU Response to Government Announcement on January College Return

17 December 2020

UCU accused the government of creating more chaos for college staff and students by waiting until the last minute before announcing changes to students’ return

The union was responding to new government guidance to schools and colleges, which includes a delayed return in January and a Covid testing programme. The government has said it will provide Covid tests for colleges, but has not yet explained who will carry out the testing or how it will be resourced. A recent study showed that the type of tests that will be used have been found to miss up to half of Covid cases.

UCU said moving online for the first week of January is the “bare minimum” the government needs to do to protect staff and students but the decision should have been made earlier. UCU said last minute changes create more chaos for overworked staff, and raised concerns over how the government will support staff and students working remotely. These concerns include the unreliability of the tests being used and how the testing will be funded and implemented. UCU said colleges are much bigger than schools and it could not see how testing could be scaled up in the government’s time frame or who would safely carry out the tests.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The government clearly has not got this pandemic under control. A delay to in-person teaching is the bare minimum it should do to protect college staff, students and the wider public. We know that in-person teaching risks increasing the rate of transmission, so it beggars belief that the government has threatened legal action to keep classrooms open this week and has waited until the day before staff and students break up for Christmas to announce these plans. Staff who have been working hard all term now have to once again respond to last minute guidance that should have been decided months ago.

‘We have  concerns about the reliability of these tests. The results cannot be relied upon as the basis to reopen college campuses when studies have shown they are often wrong. Government needs to fully fund and resource this testing programme. Most colleges have thousands of students, it will be incredibly hard to put everything in place to test all of them by January, and it is unrealistic to expect untrained staff to be able to safely administer the tests.’

CPD webinars Fri 11 Dec 2020

Places are still available for you to take part in the one or more interactive webinars that UCU are providing for members in the Eastern and Home Counties region on Friday 11 December 2020. 

There are 3 webinars on offer:

  • Working Safely During the Pandemic at 10am
  • Introduction to Sustainability at 1.30pm, and
  • Embedding Climate Education in the Curriculum at 3pm.

Working Safely During the Pandemic will explore, through a collective lens, everything that needs to be done to keep us safe. Join this webinar if you want to share your views and support others. You might also find comfort and support from knowing that other members are facing the same challenges as you and what they are doing about it.

The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:

  1. understand why it’s important to unapologetically protect your health and wellbeing at this time
  2. identify some of the challenges you face in working safely whether from home, back in the workplace or a blend of the two
  3. Be clear about what support you can expect from your employer
  4. Identify support available from UCU.

If you want to take part in the Working Safely During the Pandemic Webinar at 10am  click the link here
Introduction to Sustainability is the first in a series of webinars on UCU’s response to the climate crisis.

The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:

  1. understand student demand for sustainability and climate education
  2. Explore the meaning of sustainability
  3. Make the connection between sustainability and climate education
  4. Understand the relevant frameworks defining sustainability, and how to apply them.

If you want to take part in the Introduction To Sustainability Webinar at 1.30pm  click the link here
Embedding Climate Education in the Curriculum is the second in a series of our webinars on the climate crisis, and how we can play our part in resisting it.

To take part in this webinar you do not need to have completed the Introduction to Sustainability session, though you might find that useful too.  This webinar will look at detailed examples of how UCU members are incorporating climate education in their classroom practice in a way which we hope you will find exciting and empowering.

The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:

  1. Understand why sustainability issues are so important to students and UCU members
  2. Explore how sustainability issues have been incorporated into a range of learning programmes
  3. Reflect on how to amend your own practice
  4. Consider how you could use your experience to support other UCU members around sustainability issues.

If you want to take part in the Embedding Climate Change in the Curriculum Webinar at 3.00pm  click the link here
How the webinars will work

The taught sessions will last for about 60 minutes, after which time it may be possible to take 15-20 minutes to discuss the issues raised with a UCU official, depending on availability. In that case the total time commitment will be less than an hour and a half.

You will need to find a quiet space, away from distractions (like telephone and email!), and you may prefer to use headphones for the session. I would also recommend that you check that you can use zoom before the session if you are unfamiliar with it.

I do need to stress that if you do say that you want to be involved I need you to treat that as a commitment as the webinar will be over-subscribed. 

You will then be sent a meeting number and password for the webinar using zoom, along with a couple of points to think about before the webinar. You will be able to join the session from about 10 minutes before the stated start time. I would also recommend that you do join 5 to 10 minutes early as you will need to be admitted to the session, and of course there can be technical problems.

If you have any questions please email Glen Pickard at  gpickard@ucu.org.uk

UCU CPD for All programme

 

 

 

Dear colleague
Places are still available for you to take part in the one or more interactive webinars that UCU are providing for members in the Eastern and Home Counties region on Friday 11 December 2020.
There are 3 webinars on offer:
• Working Safely During the Pandemic at 10am
• Introduction to Sustainability at 1.30pm, and
• Embedding Climate Education in the Curriculum at 3pm.
Working Safely During the Pandemic will explore, through a collective lens, everything that needs to be done to keep us safe. Join this webinar if you want to share your views and support others. You might also find comfort and support from knowing that other members are facing the same challenges as you and what they are doing about it.
The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:
1. understand why it’s important to unapologetically protect your health and wellbeing at this time
2. identify some of the challenges you face in working safely whether from home, back in the workplace or a blend of the two
3. Be clear about what support you can expect from your employer
4. Identify support available from UCU.
If you want to take part in the Working Safely During the Pandemic Webinar at 10am click the link here

Introduction to Sustainability is the first in a series of webinars on UCU’s response to the climate crisis.
The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:
1. understand student demand for sustainability and climate education
2. Explore the meaning of sustainability
3. Make the connection between sustainability and climate education
4. Understand the relevant frameworks defining sustainability, and how to apply them.
5.
If you want to take part in the Introduction To Sustainability Webinar at 1.30pm click the link here

Embedding Climate Education in the Curriculum is the second in a series of our webinars on the climate crisis, and how we can play our part in resisting it.
To take part in this webinar you do not need to have completed the Introduction to Sustainability session, though you might find that useful too. This webinar will look at detailed examples of how UCU members are incorporating climate education in their classroom practice in a way which we hope you will find exciting and empowering.
The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:
1. Understand why sustainability issues are so important to students and UCU members
2. Explore how sustainability issues have been incorporated into a range of learning programmes
3. Reflect on how to amend your own practice
4. Consider how you could use your experience to support other UCU members around sustainability issues.
If you want to take part in the Embedding Climate Change in the Curriculum Webinar at 3.00pm click the link here

How the webinars will work
The taught sessions will last for about 60 minutes, after which time it may be possible to take 15-20 minutes to discuss the issues raised with a UCU official, depending on availability. In that case the total time commitment will be less than an hour and a half.
You will need to find a quiet space, away from distractions (like telephone and email!), and you may prefer to use headphones for the session. I would also recommend that you check that you can use zoom before the session if you are unfamiliar with it.
I do need to stress that if you do say that you want to be involved I need you to treat that as a commitment as the webinar will be over-subscribed.
You will then be sent a meeting number and password for the webinar using zoom, along with a couple of points to think about before the webinar. You will be able to join the session from about 10 minutes before the stated start time. I would also recommend that you do join 5 to 10 minutes early as you will need to be admitted to the session, and of course there can be technical problems.
If you have any questions please email Glen at gpickard@ucu.org.uk
I very much hope that you will be able to take part in one or more of the webinars.
Take good care,
Rob Hancock and Glen Pickard
UCU CPD for All programme

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

It’s My Time: workload campaign launch -link to watch again (17 Sep 2020)

The It’s My Time webinar, which launched the UCU Eastern regional office workload campaign was very well attended. The webinar can be watched again at: https://youtu.be/cums6GghKxI

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary, Jane Thompson, from the UCU national bargaining team and Lydia Richards, UCU Eastern and Home Counties Regional Official, discussed how members can challenge excessive workloads.

CPD webinar: Working safely during the pandemic Wed 23 Sep

All members in our region are invited to participate in the interactive webinar entitled Working Safely During the Pandemic. The webinar has evolved from the previous iteration, which was called Taking Care of Yourself, and now addresses all the hot topics surrounding how we can work safely this autumn, and especially focuses on what your employer needs to do to protect you and your students.

Working Safely During the Pandemic will be delivered via zoom on Wednesday 23 September ina  morning and afternoon session. You will have received an email invitation on Wed 16 Sep. If you have not receieved this email -contact easternadmin@ucu.org.uk or gpickard@ucu.org.uk

The full aims of the interactive webinar are to:
1. understand why it’s important to unapologetically protect your health and wellbeing at this time
2. identify some of the challenges you face in working safely whether from home, back in the workplace or a blend of the two
3. Be clear about what support you can expect from your employer
4. Identify support available from UCU

How it will work
The taught session will last for about 50-60 minutes, after which a member of UCU staff, or a branch activist, will update you on the latest UCU campaigning work in this area and will lead a discussion on what this all means for you, which should take another 15 to 20 minutes. The consensus is that the these discussions take away the isolation of lone working and begin to establish norms that are acceptable to us. The total time commitment will be less than an hour and a half.
The session will be led by experienced UCU CPD tutors.