Covid-19 prisons

'New national restrictions' - UCU demands for prison educators

11 November 2020

Further to the update that was sent out to members dated 5 November, it has become evident that the new national restrictions implemented by HMPPS fails to make any adjustments for the attendance or activities of prison education staff during the current lockdown. We have also become aware of variations by individual prison sites to the EDM levels as set out in the national framework which directly impacts upon our members.

Providers, prison governors and HMPPS are therefore attempting to operate a 'business as usual' approach to prison education during the current lockdown, which we believe is an unacceptable risk to our members. Despite numerous attempts at trying to clarify the position nationally, we have failed to receive an adequate response. We have therefore written to all providers and HMPPS today, setting out our demands under the current lockdown and requesting meaningful consultation on a set of specific EDM levels for education activity, to ensure that this doesn't happen again in the future.

A copy of that letter can be viewed below and we will update members as and when we receive a response.

We have also submitted a number of parliamentary questions and are updating our risk assessment advice to local reps and branch officers.

In the meantime members should follow this short guide for keeping safe on site:

If you do not feel safe attending site or you are clinically vulnerable, ask your rep for a template letter to send to your employer.

Attendance on site

  • ask for the safe system of work for entry/exit to prison
  • ask for the risk assessment, cleaning schedule and safe system of work for education department 
  • report any failure of controls (such as hand-sanitiser, lack of cleaning, social distancing) using the health & safety report mechanisms for your provier and establishment; cc your UCU rep
  • only work in well-ventilated spaces
  • wear a mask
  • wash hands
  • keep your time on site to the minimum required to complete the necessary tasks.
  • always clean shared equipment before and after use.

Wing work

  • ask for the risk assessment and safe system of work for wing visits. 
  • ensure that you are familiar with the hazards and controls
  • report any breach of controls using the health & safety report mechanisms for your provider and establishment; cc in your UCU rep
  • only enter the wing if there is no association (resident movement) going on
  • wear a mask
  • immediately leave the wing if there is clear vaping or breach of other controls
  • limit the amount of time in the wings
  • wash hands before and after attending wing.

Face-to-face teaching

  • ask for the risk assessment, clearning schedule and safe system of work for face to face teaching
  • ensure that learner numbers are in accordance with the risk assessment
  • ensure that classroom set up (desks, chairs etc) are in accordance with the risk assessment 
  • report any breach of controls using the health & safety report mechanisms for your provider and establishment; cc in your UCU rep
  • ensure that your classroom/workshop is well ventilated. 
  • wear FFP2 masks [see guidance here)
  • wash hands regularly
  • keep lesson time to a minimum 
  • always clean shared equipment before and after use.

Letter to all providers and HMPPS

UCU is disappointed and concerned that the new national restrictions from HMPPS omitted any specific reference to prison education in the adult estate. This has meant that providers and governors have been operating a 'business as usual' deployment of prison educators.

Time and again, prison educators are ignored, forgotten and treated by prison governors, providers and HMPPS as pawns in a contractual game.

As there is a national lockdown in place, and cases of Covid-19 are increasing across the prison estate and amongst our members, the position that has been taken that this is 'business as usual' is an insult to every hard-working prison educator and places them at unnecessary risk.

UCU has sought clarification from a range of sources in seeking to understand why this has been the case. In the absence of any meaningful response we are requesting that providers, fully supported by HMPPS put additional controls in place to protect their staff and set out our demands as follows:

  • attendance on site should be on a voluntary basis
  • skeleton staffing on sites (max 4-8)
  • strict adherence to bubble rotas 
  • wearing of face masks to be mandatory
  • *essential duties only that are necessary to meet operational requirements with any work that can be produced off site being carried out off site
  • no prison educator attendance at sites classed as outbreak sites
  • no 'wing work'
  • immediate review of risk assessments and cleaning regimes to include FFP2 masks worn in classrooms with NDIR monitors in use
  • copies of all investigation reports of near misses and incidents of covid cases.

*essential duties are those that are needed to support the administration, delivery and marking of in-cell packs and face to face learning in education departments where it is safe to do so and the EDM and risk assessment permits. (We do not consider painting classrooms, putting up displays and cleaning as essential work at this time or in the case of painting classrooms or substantial cleaning, at any time).

We believe that the above set of demands in this context are necessary, reasonable and operationally achievable. Our expectation is that providers will not be penalised under their PEF contracts for implementing the above and will be fully supported by HMPPS. Given the significant risks we are asking that they are implemented with immediate effect.

Moving forward, as the recognised trade union for all four PEF providers, we want to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement detailed EDM Levels for all education activity together with a process whereby when there are local variations proposed by a prison governor outside of the national framework which impact upon education staff, that these proposals are brought by the relevant education provider to UCU for meaningful consultation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Marianne Quick
Bargaining & negotiations official, UCU

Cc: UCU Prison Education Members
Justice Unions Parliamentary Group

Last updated: 11 November 2020