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Covid-19 prisons

New national lockdown

6 January 2021

Following the prime minister's announcement on 4 January, we have been working closely with branch officers and our sister trade unions to ascertain the impact of the national lockdown on prison education delivery.

I appreciate that many of you have been extremely concerned about the prospect of continuing to attend your workplaces for sometime, given the significant increase in Covid-19 cases across the country in general and the prison estate in particular.

While Gold Command issued a revised regime strategy on 31 December to be implemented from the 2nd, events on Monday evening superseded those arrangements. In summary they are as follows:

Adult estate

  • All Adult prisons to move into regime stage 4 with immediate effect. However to safely transition to stage 4 this may take a few days but all prisons should aim to be in stage 4 by the end of the week.
  • Establishments should work with providers to ensure that remote learning material is provided to learners even if they are unable to enter the establishment
  • Providers are expected to demonstrate their 'best endeavours' to maintain education during this difficult time albeit in-cell. 

YCS estate

  • YCS sites will continue to operate at their current regime level 3 in recognition of the need to maintain the well-being, education and critical support services for children where this can be safely provided. 
  • This will be kept under continued review in conjunction with PHE
  • Establishments should revert to a blended learning model of education delivery, whereby education is delivered in both face to face settings and supported by remote learning. 
  • Class sizes to be kept small (around 6-8) for face to face education with social distancing and handwashing.

I have also today written to all PEF providers and will be writing to any private YCS providers separately, setting out UCU's expectations with regards to how the above briefing is to be interpreted/followed by providers. That letter is set out below for your information.

Finally, we have called an all member prison education meeting tomorrow 7 January at 6.00pm. Please email to register. The meeting will consider any responses (or lack thereof) from your employers and establish our next steps. We will be joined by Mark Fairhurst, Chair of the POA and Janet Farrar, President Elect UCU.

In the meantime, if you have any questions please contact your local site rep or branch officers.

In solidarity,

Marianne Quick
UCU bargaining & negotiations official
(Climate & sustainability/prison education) 

Letter: To all PEF providers

National lockdown and prison education delivery 

Following the publication of the Gold Briefing - National Restrictions on 5 January (attached), UCU is writing to all PEF providers to set out how we expect our members to be treated and safely deployed under the current national lockdown. 

Whilst the briefing issued yesterday, sets out a number of parameters by which education should be carried out, it has been our experience, over the past year that boundaries have been pushed, expanded and in some cases broken. In these circumstances, your duty of care towards your employees should take priority and you should be ready and willing to challenge governors and the commissioner if that is what is needed to protect your staff - and you can be assured of UCU's full support when you do that. Your employees and our members deserve to be protected.

We are requesting therefore that providers, fully supported by HMPPS put the following arrangements in place to protect their staff and continue to ensure that prisoners receive education safely. 

  • no face-to-face teaching in the adult estate
  • immediate joint review of face to face teaching in YCS based upon increased reports of violence and breaches of covid risk assessments
  • any further attendance on site should be on a voluntary basis to support in-cell learning
  • where education staff are required/permitted on site, skeleton staffing is observed (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
  • education staff should not attend where a high standard of cleaning is not taking place
  • no 'wing work'
  • immediate review of risk assessments and cleaning regimes to include FFP2 masks worn in classrooms (in YCS estate) with NDIR monitors in use
  • copies of all investigation reports of near misses and incidents of Covid cases provided to UCU branch officers on a daily basis

    *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).

In relation to pay and conditions we are demanding that the following practices are adopted to ensure that no member suffers any financial, physical or mental health detriment:

  • staff with caring responsibilities are offered the option of furlough
  • clinically vulnerable (or staff who live with anyone who is clinically vulnerable) to work from home (not just extremely vulnerable) or placed on medical suspension on full pay. We note that this is the approach taken by HMPPS as set out in the Gold Briefing and if employers operate a 'voluntary attendance' on site option as requested above, then also avoids the additional stress placed on this group of workers to attend in person.  

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 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 by 3.00pm tomorrow (Thursday 7th January.) We are holding a mass national meeting of all of our prison education members at on the 7th where we will collectively decide our next steps.  An inadequate response or failure to respond, will inform our position.

Yours sincerely

Marianne Quick
UCU bargaining & negotiations official
(Climate & sustainability/prison education)

Cc: UCU prison education members
Richard Pickering, HMPPS

Last updated: 15 February 2021