Unions want urgent health and safety investigation into academy trust's decision to reopen schools

Unison and the GMB say the David Ross Education Trust is putting the safety of staff and pupils at risk.

By Sarah Ward
Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:16 pm
The unions say DRET has not engaged with them as well as other school trusts and say it is putting staff and pupils at risk.
The unions say DRET has not engaged with them as well as other school trusts and say it is putting staff and pupils at risk.

Two unions are calling for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to carry out an investigation into an academy trust’s decision to open its schools to more pupils this week.

Unison and the GMB say the David Ross Education Trust (DRET) is putting the safety of staff and pupils at serious and imminent risk and are calling for an urgent investigation by the HSE.

The unions claim the academy trust, which runs several primary and secondary schools in Northamptonshire, has not been telling staff, parents or health and safety representatives quickly enough of coronavirus cases in schools.

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So far the Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton has had a case and had to shut down for a deep clean. There has also been a case at Briar Hill Primary School in Northampton.

The unions, which asked DRET to delay the wider re-opening of its schools yesterday, also have concerns that staff were not consulted property about risk assessments and say they have not seen evidence that the trust’s contractors have carried out risk assessments despite making requests for the information.

Another concern is opening before a local track and trace is fully functional.

The two unions, which largely represent school support staff, are not reporting any of the other trusts operating in Northants to the HSE, but they say it is a moving feast and they do so down the line.

GMB organiser Rachelle Wilkins said: “GMB warned DRET repeatedly about not having risk assessments in place, rushed consultations and ever-increasing reports the track and trace system will not be up and running until the end of June.

“Yet they’ve still rushed ahead with wider re-opening of their primaries which is very concerning.

“The trust now needs to keep staff and trade unions regularly updated and involved with any new cases of Covid-19. DRET also must keep them briefed about the steps they’re taking to keep our member and pupils protected and safe.”

The formal complaint to the HSE says: “We are extremely concerned therefore that the trust has opened its schools to an increasing number of pupils and staff during an epidemic without fully engaging staff and unions on the risk in each school and the measures needed to be taken to mitigate these risks as far as possible

“We believe the trust compounded these serious breaches by also failing to fully consider the impact of a lack of a fully rolled out test, trace and isolate infrastructure locally on the health and safety of pupils and staff. “

The trust – which was founded by Carphone Warehouse businessman David Ross – released a video yesterday showing how it had made changes in school to ensure pupils could social distance.

Trust chief executive Rowena Hackwood said she knew parents would be justifiably anxious, but hoped the video would reassure that the trust was doing all it could to keep pupils and staff safe.

But the unions are not happy that enough has been done and have not been given a reporting protocol outlining how the trust will inform staff members and parents of any covid outbreaks.

Many schools across the country did not open their doors yesterday, instead choosing to do so in a week’s time. Masses of parents of pupils in the returning years of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 also decided to keep homeschooling their children.

Northamptonshire Unison branch secretary Kev Standishday said: “David Ross Education Trust has ploughed ahead with wider reopening which could put staff and pupils at risk. The trust needs to ensure every member of staff is told when a colleague gets the virus and senior managers must involve unions much more than they have done so far.

“In stark contrast to how DRET have acted we have had some very good engagement with some trusts who have worked really well with their local reps around risk assessing prior to re-opening and some schools have pushed back the potential reopening by a week to ensure risk assessments are correct and UNISON reps and staff are fully consulted and briefed on the new arrangements for safety in school.”

A spokesperson for the David Ross Education Trust said: “The safety of our children and our staff always has been, and always will be, our top priority. We are confident that the risk assessments we carried out for each of our schools are robust and rigorous, and our primaries that re-opened yesterday all did so without any issues, having followed all Government guidance.

“We have worked hard to share all information with the unions throughout this process, including details of our approach to re-opening, and will continue to seek to engage with them.”

DRET’s schools across Northamptonshire are Welton Church of England Academy, Newnham Primary School, Falconer’s Hill Academy, Abbey CE Academy, Cedar Road Primary School, Eastfield Academy, Briar Hill Primary School, The Arbours Primary Academy, Kings Heath Primary Academy, Malcom Arnold Preparatory School, Rockingham Primary School and Greenfields Primary School and Nursery.