School support staff – latest branch advice

To update you, UNISON is still working hard to prevent an unsafe return to school on 1 June. We are doing this locally in West Sussex – and our colleagues at the national level are having final discussions with the Department of Education (DfE) over the next couple of days. Final advice will be issued to members but please read this local West Sussex advice for UNISON members below.

Definitions list

The branch last week negotiated with WSCC HR the definitions list which will help school Heads with their risk assessments and determining which staff should be asked to come back to school in due course. This definitions list was agreed by UNISON with WSCC HR – and also applies to WSCC non-schools staff. It follows Local Government Association (LGA) advice for how to deal with staff in the four health categories (shielded; live with shielded; vulnerable; live with vulnerable).

We were awaiting this to be sent to Heads with an updated risk assessment template by the Director of Education & Skills but this has not happened, so the branch has sent the definitions direct to Heads ourselves to help inform their decision-making and the risk assessment process.

Risk assessments

You should have access to your school’s risk assessment for re-opening. Individual risk assessments should also be conducted.

You should be aware of the arrangements being proposed to keep you and others safe. The individual risk assessment is very important and if you have concerns, make sure these are recorded.

If you are feeling pressured to return to school and are unsure that the necessary provisions have been made to ensure the working environment is safe – and particularly if you fall within one of the four groups listed in the definitions document – please get in touch for advice and support (see below).

UNISON believes that staff who have health vulnerabilities, or live with people who have, should not be forced to return on 1 June.

Survey results

You can read the results of the recent UNISON national support staff survey here. Thank you to members who took part in this. No doubt these results have been useful to our national negotiators.

Memorandum of understanding for ‘school hubs’ and bank holiday working

There have been preparations made at a county level to cover the eventuality that schools might need to work together in ‘hubs’ and have staff redeployed between them. This may never come to pass, but if the pandemic was to get considerably worse and available staff numbers were impacted further it might be required. A Memorandum of Understanding has been developed with UNISON’s input. If members work on bank holidays because a school is staying open for the children of key workers, they should receive double-time pay in line with NJC terms and conditions.

Advice and support

As ever, if there are any questions you have or there is support you require, please get in touch with your school rep or academy rep or the branch office. The branch will support members to resist being forced to work if they are put in an unsafe position. Of course, most Heads are reasonable people and will not want this either.


We need more workplace reps and health & safety reps in our schools! Could you help? There is not as much involved as you might think, but having a rep can really help to improve communication in your school between the branch and members.

New members

We have had lots of new schools members joining the branch over the past two weeks particularly. We are delighted about this and welcome you all. If you are encouraging non-member colleagues to join us, please remember that UNISON is the correct trade union for support staff in West Sussex. Only UNISON is recognised by WSCC for support staff. So only UNISON can negotiate for you collectively on NJC pay, your pension, and so on, and only UNISON understand the detail of your terms and conditions and how to resolve issues – because other unions rightly are focussed on teachers’ terms and conditions.