We round-up the latest news affecting schools.
DfE helpline to give schools speedy advice about self-isolation
The government has set up a new national helpline so schools and colleges can get advice and report cases of suspected coronavirus. Instead of seeking help from Public Health England (which has been overwhelmed by the volume of calls), schools and colleges will be able to get timely advice about which pupils/students and members of staff have to be sent home to self-isolate.
The new helpline can be reached by calling the DfE's existing helpline on 0800 046 8687 and selecting the option for reporting a positive case. It’s only open 8 am to 6 pm from Monday to Friday, and 10 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday. Advisers will decide whether to escalate the matter to the local health protection team. If that happens, they’ll work with you to carry out a rapid risk assessment and tell you what steps to take to reduce risk.
The DfE has also published new guidance for schools and colleges, which sets out the steps they need to take if a pupil/student displays coronavirus symptoms.
New fines for schools breaching self-isolation rules
Employers in England can now be fined up to £10,000 if they let staff return to their workplace before the end of any period of self-isolation. Staff can continue to work from home though – provided they are well enough to do so.
Employees who test positive or are told to self-isolate (by the Test and Trace Service or public health officials) must tell their employer the date they started their self-isolation and when they expect it to end. They have to do this ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable, ’ and no later than they’re due to start work. The only exception is where they’re already working from home.
The rules also cover job agencies and agency workers.
Find out more about the self-isolation rules. Christmas cancelled – the ‘rule of six’ limits work social gatherings
New rules have come into force that prevent people in England from meeting in groups of more than six, both indoors and outdoors.
There’s an exception for work, and social gatherings associated with work. But the rules are complicated. People have to stay in a ‘qualifying group’ of six people or less, and that group can’t ‘mingle’ with other qualifying groups. If you’re still planning a work social, please
read the advice to make sure that your event is safe and lawful. ‘Work from home if you can’ advice doesn’t apply to teachers and support staff
In August, the government told the working public that they should return to their workplaces if they were ‘COVID secure’.
Schools were told to re-open in time for the start of the autumn term, and most were able to.
Then, in response to the increase in the number of infections, workers were told to ‘work from home if you can’. This created widespread confusion. The government’s press release says that: ‘Public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary.’ This reflects the government's intention to keep schools and colleges open, and to make sure that critical public services aren't affected.
Coronavirus – testing guidance for employers
The government has published
guidance to help employers looking to introduce their own testing programmes outside the NHS Test and Trace service understand the regulations and legal issues. It provides advice on:
Virus and antibody testing
The steps you need to think about before deciding to establish a testing programme
Informing staff and complying with GDPR requirements
Selecting and obtaining appropriate test kits
Collecting and handling samples
Finding appropriate laboratory facilities
Data collection and individual rights
Communicating the results to staff
What an employer can and can't do with the results.
It also provides a very helpful list of the relevant legal issues and provides links to relevant legislation.
Furlough – up to £3.5 billion could have been wrongly paid out (so far)
HMRC chief executive Jim Harra recently gave evidence to the
Public Accounts Committee about ‘tackling the tax gap’. He said that HMRC were working on the assumption that the error and fraud rate for the furlough scheme could be between 5% and 10%. On current figures, this means that somewhere between £1.75bn and £3.5bn could have been wrongly claimed. Those figures are likely to increase as the scheme doesn’t end until Saturday 31 October 2020.
Mr Harra said that HMRC would concentrate its efforts on finding those organisations that have deliberately over-claimed. He didn't say how much he thinks the government has lost to fraud, rather than to mistake.
As we reported, organisations are now expected to check their records to make sure their claims are accurate. You have until have until Friday 20 October 2020 to notify HMRC of any mistakes. If you fail to do so and are caught, you can be fined, and named and shamed, in a public register.
Read more about overclaimed furlough grants. New ‘Kickstart’ scheme open
The government has opened the
Kickstart scheme. Employers can apply for a grant to create new six month job placements for eligible young people.
Find out if your school can apply and the conditions that you have to meet. Home Office updates guidance on the renewal of a sponsor licence
The Home Office updated its guidance '
Points-based system sponsor licensing: renewals' on Friday 18 September 2020 to include details on the ‘streamlined renewal process’. If you’re a sponsor who has successfully renewed your sponsor licence twice, and there are no ‘compliance concerns’, you may be eligible for a streamlined consideration process when you apply to renew your licence. If your application is streamlined, the Home Office won’t conduct as many checks. Government responds to consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004
Minister for Women and Equalities Elizabeth Truss MP has outlined the government’s
response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The government concluded that current provisions within the Act allow individuals to change their sex legally in a safe and fair manner.
Essentially, the requirements to change gender legally will remain unchanged. But the process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate will be modernised, and the application will be digitised on the government website. The application fee will also be significantly reduced so it’s more ‘user-friendly’ and the cost doesn’t act as a barrier to anyone. Lastly, the government is taking action to make sure transgender people can access the healthcare they need.
Government proposes new changes to criminal records to help support ex-offenders into work
The Ministry of Justice has
announced new criminal record legislation to reduce the time it takes for certain convictions to become spent so they don’t need to be disclosed on employment checks. The aim is to remove barriers to employment and reduce reoffending. If the proposals come into force:
Custodial sentences of up to one year will become spent after 12 months without reoffending
Convictions between one and four years will become spent after four crime-free years
Sentences of over four years won’t need to be automatically disclosed to employers where there’s been a seven-year period of rehabilitation
If an individual re-offends during their rehabilitation period, they’ll need to disclose both the original and subsequent offences to potential employers, ‘for the duration of whichever rehabilitation period is longer.’
The rules won’t apply to anyone who has committed serious sexual, violent, or terrorist offences, and those working in sensitive roles, such as teaching or nursing.
These proposals follow June’s
secondary legislation laid by the government that will, in most cases, remove the requirement for automatic disclosure and self-disclosure of youth cautions, reprimands and warnings. It will also remove the multiple-conviction rule, which requires the disclosure of all convictions where a person has more than one conviction, regardless of the nature of their offence or sentence.
Read more – October 2020
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