UNISON Northern Ireland


The UNISON Northern Ireland Education Team has been active throughout the Christmas period on our members behalf raising challenges and seeking answers on a range of concerns.

The initial postponement in reopening most schools to January 11th (announced last Thursday December 31st by the NI Minister and circulated to all our branches) was in fact secured by the joint efforts of education trade unions during the Christmas period.

There is no doubt that the attempt to force schools back on January 4th across England, Scotland and Wales caused some confusion and raised concerns for our members. However, we continued over the few days to advise members that we fully expected the NI Executive would announce closure as in the other parts of the UK.

So, for those parts of the education system that have been directed to remain open, Special Needs Schools and Schools which will be asked to facilitate request for attendance of children of designated key workers (may include nursery schools):

We are meeting with the Department of Education (DE) and with the Education Authority (EA) over the next number of days on a number of key concerns:

  • Health and Safety protocols.
  • Possible revision to risk assessments.
  • Designated lines of authority for oversight in open schools.
  • Possible revision of pupil numbers in attendance. 
  • Impact on school services including Transport, Catering & Cleaning.
  • Numbers of children attending. 
  • Ratios of staff to children in attendance.

We have already intervened directly with DE and EA on our opposition to some schools delegating sole responsibility to classroom assistants in the absence of designated teachers.

We have called for a review of transport safety standards and procedures.

We have insisted that school meals provision be maintained as appropriate.

We have elevated the safety concerns of members in special needs schools to DE and the EA.

There is a procedure available to individual members who consider their health safety to be compromised these steps must be followed carefully:

  • Initial complaint to their line manager. 
  • Request for an updated risk assessment. 
  • A submission to their line manager outlining areas of concern specific to the member and a request for remedial action.

If this fails, the member may wish to invoke relevant clauses of the Health and Safety Act NI to indicate their decision not to attend at their workplace. Members should contact their union branch before embarking on this action.

We note that the Education Minister has sought Executive approval for vaccination to be available to education staff in face to face settings with children. If and when approved, UNISON will seek the revision of all guidance documents.

We continue to insist that the DE guidance should state that staff should be working remotely where they can.

Staff should only be in the workplace for essential reasons as outlined above.

Education Restart – Guidance for Schools & Educational Settings in Northern Ireland January 2021

Check this website for further general updates.