The EIS-FELA wrote to the Management side of the NJNC on 03 March 2020 in order to discuss national guidance for the college sector on the Coronavirus, but received no written response. 

Colleges have therefore developed regional and college level responses to COVID-19/coronavirus.

The Institute previously emailed FELA reps with general advice on the Covid-19 virus on 28 February. This EIS FELA guidance goes beyond that advice and seeks to address emerging issues.

A series of questions to ask management is also attached/set out below for Branches to raise with the colleges.  Some colleges have responded with positive advice to staff/students and will share this separately as a guide for reps of good practice.

Self-isolation and Working from Home

We would advise all EIS FELA members to prioritise their health, safety and wellbeing and that of those around them. We understand that some colleges have closed to students and that others are now making preparations to close to students with immediate effect. We are making representations that all colleges follow government guidance and that staff should work from home wherever possible.

The Health Protection Scotland website has clear government advice on self-isolation. 

The Institute encourages  members to self-isolate under the conditions set out in the guidance in order to ensure their health and safety, and that of others. Colleges have a duty of care to staff and there are no reported problems with any college in staff self-isolating. If there are any issues please contact your FELA College Secretary or Area Officer.

Lecturing Staff Pay

All lecturing staff should receive sick pay from day 1 of absence. This should apply to all regardless of contract type and length of service; if you have concerns about this please contact your local rep.

In the event that staff require to self-isolate this leave should also be paid; the Institute  expect colleges to provide special leave for this purpose (since the Coronavirus is defined as an infectious disease) and a number have already indicated that they will do so. This should include special leave for caring responsibilities and for staff who face additional vulnerability due to health conditions and disabilities.

Colleges should also seek to support staff mental health during this time, including staff unable to work due to mental health conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.

Colleges should advise of local arrangements for the submission of diary sheets for part time and temporary staff and should ensure that no staff are financially disadvantaged should it not be possible to submit time sheets in the normal fashion.

Under no circumstances should coronavirus related absence be counted towards any Attendance Management Policy; any attempt to do so should be challenged immediately by reps.

Home Working

All teaching staff have off-site working arrangements in place under the terms of the NWPA. The Institute recognises that many vocational subjects cannot be delivered remotely and that many college learners will not have access to suitable equipment or internet access from home to enable them to participate in online learning.

Colleges should manage expectations on staff appropriately; where possible and where staff are fit to do so, members should work from home but this should not exceed the hours undertaken in a normal working week under the terms of the NWPA.

Colleges should ensure that all staff have access to appropriate devices and should encourage learners only to contact staff via college systems. Staff should only contact and respond to learners via the appropriate college systems. Where there are concerns about vulnerable students who may not have internet access, there should be a nominated contact person with a college mobile phone.

Catch up and Assessment Arrangements

The Institute is having discussions with the SQA and this includes raising FE specific matters. The Institute will seek FELA input at local and national level into 'catch up' and alternative assessment arrangements to ensure that these do not place teaching staff under undue workload pressure, nor do they disadvantage lecturers or learners unable to work during this period.

The Institute is particularly concerned that all subjects which require close physical proximity (e.g. hair and beauty) should cease all practical work with immediate effect.

Clear guidance should be issued to learners on placement; if learners are continuing on placement while colleges are closed then both the learner and the placement organisation must be provided with appropriate emergency contact details. Learners should not be disadvantaged as a result of disruptions to placements.

Issues to be Raised by Branches with their Colleges

  • Seeking assurances that absence will not trigger attendance management procedures;
  • Confirmation on entitlement to sick pay for all staff, regardless of length of service;
  • Clarity that extended college closures do not trigger sick pay, that all staff will be paid which includes temporary staff and temporary hours calculations. For example; should staff be encouraged to self-isolate, they need to know that they can afford to or they may not do so;
  • Advice on what staff duties are in the event of closures if they occur. For example; are they required to work from home, will the college supply them with the required equipment, college insurances etc.;
  • Clear advice on student contact using college equipment and not personal devices;
  • Advice on catch up and assessment after closures;
  • In the event of a college not closing, advice for members in high risk categories;
  • Specific advice for vocational areas where proximity/hygiene issues are prevalent. For example; Beauty, Catering and Hospitality;
  • Advice regarding student placements/visits, both in event of closure and in event of non-closure;
  • Advice on rights if students attend class and are clearly unwell or which is against medical advice;
  • Guidance for staff with underlying health issues;
  • Guidance for Pregnant Staff;
  • Guidance on pay if caring for children or others who are sick, advised to isolate or as a result of school or nursery closure;
  • Guidance on home working while caring for children or dependents;
  • Advice on assessment and examinations, which will presumably require the involvement of SQA and other accrediting bodies, of which colleges have a number of.

Good Practice Already Established in the College Sector

Seeking assurances that absence will not trigger attendance management procedures;

 All staff who are absent due to COVID 19 related issues will not be subject to attendance management procedures, unless they are seeking support.

Confirmation on entitlement to sick pay for all staff, regardless of length of service;

All staff who are absent due to contracting COVID 19 will receive sick pay regardless of length of service.

Clarity that extended college closures do not trigger sick pay, that all staff will be paid which includes temporary staff and temporary hours calculations. For example; should staff be encouraged to self-isolate, they need to know that they can afford to or they may not do so;

If the college were to close down there would be at least 2 phases, one where students would be asked not to attend and staff would attend, and a follow up phase where we work from home.  In the event of this second phase happening staff would be placed on special leave with no impact on pay.

Advice on what staff duties are in the event of closures if they occur. For example; are they required to work from home, will the college supply them with the required equipment, college insurances etc;

There are no issues with insurance, staff could use their college laptops to communicate with students if possible.  Course teams should seek to put together the needs in each of their own areas.

Clear advice on student contact using college equipment and not personal devices;

Staff should continue to have a professional distance from students through communication online.  

Advice on catch up and assessment after closures;

The college will contact awarding bodies regarding any potential alternative arrangements for assessment, and update staff on this as soon as possible.

In the event of a college not closing, advice for members in high risk categories;

Staff who are in high risk areas should try to set up online communities with each class and so avoid face to face contact with students.

Specific advice for vocational areas where proximity/hygiene issues are prevalent. For example; Beauty, Catering and Hospitality;

This is already starting to fall into place and staff should be aware of hygiene issues from their professional background.

Advice regarding student placements/visits, both in event of closure and in event of non-closure;

It is likely that such events will start to rundown, where staff are concerned about visits they should cancel them.

Advice on rights if students attend class and are clearly unwell or which is against medical advice;

Students should be instructed to leave the class and go home immediately.  If student refuses to leave, ask class to go to another area and seek support of promoted staff.

Guidance on pay if caring for children or others who are sick, advised to isolate or as a result of school or nursery closure; 

Flexible working arrangements to be adopted, and a sympathetic approach will be adopted.

Guidance for staff with underlying health issues;

The EIS is not able to advise you to stay away from work in other circumstances as potentially there is no guarantee that you would be paid, either to self-isolate when there is no NHS advice to do so or simply to avoid contact with others. In such circumstances, you may find that your employer treats your absence as unauthorised.

However, in our view that would be unreasonable behaviour on the part of your employer and we would seek to challenge it.

We would advise that if you have a health condition, or indeed that you have care responsibilities for a family member with such, and the employer is rejecting self-isolation, then you should ask your employer to carry out a risk assessment and seek reasonable adjustments as a consequence e.g. remote working or non-class contact duties.

Failure to make such could lead to a grievance being taken out but our hope would be that employers act reasonably in the circumstances we face.

Guidance for pregnant staff;

The EIS believes that it is good practice for employers to ask all pregnant staff to work from home. If this is not possible then the college will need to conduct a risk assessment in order to properly exercise its duty of care.

Guidance on home working while caring for children or dependents; 

Management accept that if staff are having to care for dependents, then flexible working arrangements should be adopted.  They should inform their line manager and course team should seek to consider other means of supporting students.

Advice on assessment and examinations, which will presumably require the involvement of SQA and other accrediting bodies.

College management will contact awarding bodies to seek to come to some arrangements for examinations and other assessments.  Staff involved in QSTs should contact them to find out the arrangements being considered.